Monday, June 16, 2008

Ruminating On Russert

I suppose it is as it should be that Tim Russert has received such a fond sendoff from his colleagues over the last few days, as well as other notables in politics and entertainment. I can only imagine what type of work ethic it takes to acquire degrees in both law and journalism, with one being a logical extension of the other (I once held a job where part of my duties was to screen resumes of freelance writers to be hired for what purported to be a publishing company, and anyone who had a legal background of one type or another automatically received first preference; if you know how to write a brief, then as far as I was concerned, you pretty much knew how to write in the “inverted pyramid” structure anyway).

Even though I cannot recall a singular moment of extraordinary journalistic accomplishment, his career in aggregate is such that it was emblematic of a formidable talent.

However, I think it is important that we not gloss over Russert’s words and actions too much. I know we should show respect because the man is dead and his family, friends and loved ones deserve no less, but I have some observations (spurred on, I have to admit, by this column in the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday by Dick Polman, which absurdly characterizes Russert as “a patriot…dying in battle,” particularly tasteless given the sacrifices of our service people in Iraq and elsewhere).

Let’s start by point out that there was a reason why Arianna Huffington began what she called the “Russert Watch” regarding the inaccuracies generated by the utterly fawning treatment the “Meet The Press” host gave to Republicans (to the point where, during the “Scooter” Libby trial, former communications director to Dick Cheney Cathie Martin suggested arranging an interview with Deadeye Dick on the show because MTP was “our best format”).

And as Michelle Pilecki notes here, Russert certainly had no reservations about blaming we filthy, unkempt types online for the “incivility in our public discourse”…

"Bloggers," said Russert, "all force candidates to accept a position, to play a[n adversarial] role," and "puts pressure on those of us in the mainstream media [if we're not] sufficiently adversarial. It doesn't work that way." Actually, it seems to me that Russert sees journalism as being, by definition, adversarial. He asserts that the news media must "represent both sides of the issue," apparently (this is just me talking) even when there isn't another realistic side, e.g. scientific issues. Of course, back in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the question of WMDs, how much MSM coverage was there of "both sides of the issue"? Did the American public get to hear the arguments of former Marine and weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who said that Iraq didn't have WMDs and warned against the invasion?
I also once found it particularly uproarious to find out that Russert was going to chair “a panel discussion in media ethics” (here).

Also, this Media Matters post catalogues Russert’s journalistic misadventures during the Democratic debate last October 30th; we have a question from Russert described as “breathtakingly misleading” by to Hillary Clinton concerning her husband (the Big Dog described it as “transparently hostile”). The Media Matters post also picks apart a question Russert posed to HRC about Social Security that tried to question her credibility but, in the process, sabotaged his own worse than anyone else.

And if you have any question as to the degree that Russert, through talent and ingratiation, had risen to the top of the Beltway bloviators, all you need to do is read once more the New York Times story by Mark Leibovich linked to this post about how Chris Matthews, as big a corporate media loon as you can imagine, obsessed about trying to match Russert in as adolescent a way as possible.

However, I think history will be kind to Russert and his performance last October for two reasons: 1) The man is now dead, and 2) At least Russert managed to lead off with debate questions that, while misleading, were at least pertinent to important topics; would that Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos had learned that lesson later.

(Indeed the timing of Russert’s passing is a bit spooky, given the fact that it happened so close to Father’s Day and he purported to be a spokesman for all fathers here, which I thought was typical overreach on his part. However, this Wikipedia article tells us that Russert correctly claimed that the 2000 presidential election would be decided by Florida and 2004 by Ohio, and he also claimed that the 2008 election would be decided by New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada; we'll see if he's right.)

All of that being said, though, it’s good that Russert is being remembered for his other legitimately good work. But I would like to see everyone who has felt his passing in one way or another extend a fraction of that sympathy towards our military that continues to fight, suffer, struggle and die as a result of Dubya’s Iraq war.

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