Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

In one of those coincidences without which life would lose its flair, only yesterday Glenn Greenwald bitched about the intimacy between Washington and much of the media figures ostensibly covering it, linking at the end of his column to this Daily Howler piece chronicling how Tim Russert, Tom Brokaw, Barbara Walters, Judy Woodruff, and a cast of thousands chased John McCain around New York in August 2004 singing "Happy Birthday" (as a good friend in Charleston reminded me a few minutes ago, "John McCain is the last fucking person who should be complaining about press coverage"). Since for years "Meet The Press" has replaced the Bloody Mary as my preferred hangover emollient on Sunday mornings, I can't complain too much about his inflated reputation; but I suspect Big Tim would have been the first to pounce on the obvious fact that he died on a Friday, guaranteeing two days of blanket coverage, complete with a "Meet The Press" round table presided over by David Broder and a parliament of septuagenarian media elite. Russert looked like such an amiable sort -- the ruddy cheeks which no pancake makeup could mask bespoke a taste for the best kind of Irish tippling -- that I kept wishing he'd show more backbone. As I wrote a couple of years ago:

Tim Russert's reputation for "objectivity" is based upon the diligence of his staff, which actually take the trouble to sift through a politican's record for contradictions. In response the politician stammers that he was "taken out of context." Whereupon Russert DROPS THE SUBJECT. If he actually questioned their incoherent jargon, called them on their use of cliches (look to the language, Orwell always said), forced them into retreat, then he would deserve his reputation.
"Meet The Press" was usually a politican's last stop, akin to the confessional, wherein Fr. Russert would scowl and look paternal (meanwhile the guest would look penitent and humble, yet eager for more self-abasement) before administering a figurative sign of the cross and blessing. Of course, this is considered Real Fair and Balanced journalism (I can't imagine that when the obits for Seymour Hersh are written we'll see many references to his empyrean detachment). Journalists shouldn't be merely "respected" and loved; they should inspire odium and fear.

If I'm being too harsh on Russert, it's a response to the adulation he inspires in most of my reporter friends. The world in which they operate allows so few chances for uncompromised reporting that Russert's occasional feints look honorable in context. All the best to Big Russ, the father he adored, who shouldn't have to endure this on this of all possible weekends.

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