For David Gregory it began simply about a decade ago: “I wanted to be better.’’
For much of the television journalist’s life being better meant doing better: Better news stories. Better interviews. Better jobs. Better contracts. Better reputation.
But this was a departure because, as he put it, “For most of my life, faith was not a part of my vocabulary.’’
Then, as often happens, life intervened. Marriage (to a woman raised as a Methodist). Children (who would need spiritual grounding). And much later, crisis (a high-profile firing from perhaps television’s most vaunted news post).
With the passage of years came a gradually evolving need for answers to the only questions that really matter. Why are we here? How can we serve? And the ultimate news-analysis assignment of all: What is the purpose of life?
The child of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Gregory would not have an easy time finding the answers. By chance, George W. Bush, turning the table on Gregory, asked the newsman a question at one point: “How’s your faith?’’
It was a question that haunted him and formed the title of this unusual, probing book, part memoir, part cri de coeur, part exploration. And as a result of Gregory’s examination of faith, he found himself better prepared for the turmoil that followed the public humiliation he suffered after being ousted from the host’s chair at “Meet the Press’’ last summer amid tumbling ratings. Indeed, at that moment of tumult he felt a strange serenity.
“I felt support and love around me, and I could feel God in that,’’ he writes. “I thought about what I wanted my kids to learn of hardship, dignity, and grace.’’
Gregory was reared in an unusual Jewish atmosphere, at the Synagogue of the Performing Arts in California, whose high holiday services were conducted at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. His father was a cultural Jew; his mother was an alcoholic.
His father had assimilated easily — he dropped the kosher diet and the name Ginsberg — but Gregory felt a distinct Jewish identity. His interfaith marriage, however, strangely liberated him to find his own path, to plunge into Bible study with a teacher who didn’t recognize one of the most recognizable faces on television, and who asked hard questions such as: What would you be if you lost it all? Before long, Gregory would be asking the same question, having lost it all.
Visiting small churches and megachurches, all manner of synagogues and the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va., Gregory dug deep into the notion of faith even as he discovered, and thus deepened, his own connection to the faith of his youth. Some of this alienated his wife, some of it drew them closer. And in the middle were the Gregory children themselves. “I find it deeply fulfilling to consider the words of God,’’ he writes. “But my children do not, and perhaps they never will.’’
His forced departure from “Meet the Press’’ put all this to the test. “After 20 years as a fairly hard-driving, ambitious, and competitive journalist, I was about to experience a change. Who knew what would happen next.’’
I met Gregory only once, as a guest questioner on “Meet the Press’’ last year, but that was only for an hour, though a special hour; it was Easter Sunday. He was pleasant, engaging, even warm. I did not know — it was not at all evident — that the world was falling down around him. Just a few days later The Washington Post all but wrote his professional obituary with a feature story that must have hurt him deeply.
But the viewers of the show, and the guests on the show, did not know that he was also amid a journey of a lifetime, one that would utterly change his perspective and his life.
‘’Over time, I have found myself becoming more comfortable with surrendering to God,’’ he writes. This is not the idiom of television news, but he goes on. “What was hard for me at first has become easier. It feels more natural for me now to let Him in, to see God as someone guiding me. I feel as though God knows my mind and loves me enough to urge me to do better.’’
And so now it is clear to me, as it will be to the reader of “How’s Your Faith?’’: After everything that has happened to him, David Gregory has recognized that the real producer of the show that is his life did not work at NBC.
HOW’S YOUR FAITH? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey
By David Gregory
Simon and Schuster, 276 pp., $26
David Shribman, executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a former Washington bureau chief of the Globe, is a Jewish man married to a Catholic woman. Their daughter, a 23-year-old with a degree in religion from Bates College, began studies this summer to become a rabbi.