Chuck Todd is currently moderator of “Meet the Press” on NBC, a one-on-one interview show sometimes followed by a roundtable. Todd follows many notable news correspondents: Roger Mudd, Marvin Kalb, Chris Wallace, Garrick Utley, Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, David Gregory, and Martha Rountree. Wait, Martha Rountree? There has been a woman moderator?
In fact, Martha Rountree was the first moderator of “Meet the Press” in 1947. It was the first show where interviews were not rehearsed. She filled the position for six years. Not only was Rountree the moderator she was also “a” or “the” creator—depending on which source you check. Supposedly, Rountree and Lawrence E. Spivak introduced the show on radio in 1945 then on television two years later. Some say Spivak came to the party later and, although he was co-producer and business partner, Rountree generated the concept on her own.
The first guest was James Farley, Postmaster General and campaign manager for Franklin Delano Roosevelt during his first two terms. Every President since John F. Kennedy has been interviewed on the show, although not always during his presidency. The first woman guest was Elizabeth Bentley, an American who spied for the Soviet Union then defected and provided information on Soviet spies to the U.S. Government. Even then a woman had a better chance of getting noticed if she was notorious.
Since history is written by the male survivors, we may never know the truth about whether Martha Rountree developed the show, but she was the first moderater, even though she was a woman and it was 1947. She set the tone for the program and its future. It is the longest-running program in television history.