13 June, 2008

Adios, Tim Russert

Raise a glass, my darlings. Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press died of an apparent heart attack this afternoon. He died in harness, recording voiceovers for Sunday's show. He'd recently returned from a family vacation to Italy: if there's any consolation, it's that he got to have that one last grand trip before the end.

Russert was a highly-decorated veteran of the media scrum. He won an Emmy for his coverage of Reagan's funeral, the Radio and Television Correspondent's Joan S. Barone Award and the Annenberg Center’s Walter Cronkite Award for his MTP interviews with Bush and Gore, got a share of the 2001 Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence in Television Journalism, and about a bajillion other awards all stating what a tremendous journalist he was. He ended up a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. Not a bad career.

Let's not forget what "excellence in journalism" means in this society. The lionizing has already started - of course it will, the man's only just died - but it's important to remember that Tim Russert was a solid establishment member of our political press corps, and just as flawed as the rest of them.

Meet the Press was first choice for Cheney communications director Cathie Martin when a venue was needed for our evil VP to spin the revelations that Bush & Co. lied this country into Iraq. Under the pros she listed for MTP: "Control message." She later testified during the Libby trial, "I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used.... It's our best format."

Then there was this exchange with Bill Moyers from "Buying the War:"
BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows, the very morning that that story appeared?

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know. The NEW YORK TIMES is a better judge of that than I am.

BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?

TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean-

BILL MOYERS: The Cheney office didn't leak to you that there's gonna be a big story?

TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don't have the-- This is, you know-- on MEET THE PRESS, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum tubes story until I read it in the NEW YORK TIMES.
That "the print press knows better than I" attitude could explain little fuck-ups like this:
On the May 7 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, host Tim Russert cited a flawed Associated Press article published February 9 in order to link Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) to "money from [disgraced former lobbyist] Jack Abramoff." After quoting the article, Russert said to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA): "You get your money -- both parties get their money from lobbyists." The AP article Russert cited, however, omitted key facts that undermined its suggested connection between Reid and Abramoff.
I could go on, but the man just died, and I think you already have enough to caution you: remember that for all their pretty awards, high-tech studios, and enormous advertising budgets, the supposed "journalists" babbling on your talk shows aren't journalists at all. They're personalities. Tim Russert was one of our bigger personalities, and I have to admit, I'm going to miss having the bugger around. He was always so refreshingly annoying. And he truly does seem to have done his best to be what he thought he should be. Maybe in an era where "journalism" meant more than repeating Administration talking points and playing gotcha with inane bullshit, he could have been a real journalist.

Adios, Tim. This Irish Whiskey's for you.

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