Monday, June 16, 2008

Saint Tim

OK, now that all the gushing over Tim Russert has begun to subside somewhat, I’d like to chime in and say I really never found the man’s work all that wonderful. Sure, it seems like he was a hell of guy to know or be related to, but some of his professional work was just awful. Here’s an example which I blogged about more than two years ago.

But the real news came when Russert asked Obama about comments Harry Belafonte made about George Bush being a terrorist. It turns out the only other person Russert ever asked about Belafonte’s remarks was…Colin Powell. Gotta keep up with what the brothers are thinkin’, eh Timmy?
Russert also specialized in the gotcha game, often digging up trivia to confound guests with. Sorry, I just never liked that sort of thing.

And as long as I’m raining on the Russet parade, I cringed when I saw this in the SJ-R about Russert’s “contribution” to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

I had forgotten that it was Russert that appeared in that video. Not that I blame Russert for that piece of crap, he did his part just fine, it was the whole idea that was dumb. And to Russert’s credit he resisted doing it, probably realizing just how stupid it was. Here was my review of the display right after the museum opened in 2005:
The thing I liked least was the mock TV control room showing a fake news show hosted by real news guy Tim Russert. Russert was, not very convincingly, trying
to portray the 1860 election on modern television terms. It was complete with modern looking TV political ads. I just wasn’t buying it. Introducing television in to the past like that just doesn’t feel right. We have Russert speaking and dressed for 2005 with pictures of Lincoln as he was in 1860. It just doesn’t work. Lose it and use the space for something else.
Like I said, this wasn't really Russert's bad, but I bet he had wished he had stuck with his instincts and not done it.

Update: As Nancy correctly points out in comments, much of the praise for Russert over the weekend included pronouncements that he didn't practice "gotcha" journalism. Hmmm. Try Googling "Russert Gotcha" and see what happens.

And to be clear, I definitely think Russert had great talent. I very much enjoyed watching him do election coverage. I just don't think he walked on journalistic water.


nancy said...

Did you catch yesterday's Meet the Press? I guess it depends on who you ask, but most of the panelists agreed that Russert didn't participate in the gotcha game. Carville and Matalin in particular seemed to stress that you had to be prepared, but that as long as you were, Russert's interviews were demanding, but fair. I'm sure there were many who would disagree too, and since this was a memorial of sorts, you weren't going to find them on yesterday's show. I don't know....I really liked him.

Dave said...


I found it odd to that so many are now claiming Russert didn't play gotcha when that's been my main gripe about him for a long time. I guess we rember/forget what we wont to.

The other thing he would occasionally do is take the position of some factullay inacurate talking point to illicit a response. Which is fine but by posing the question in a straight forward manner there was never any suggestion from Russert that the the basis of the question was wrong unless the person being interviewed made a point of it.

Will said...

I also got annoyed at how often Russert did the "back then you said this but now you say that" gotcha game. He'd do it on almost trivial things while ignoring bigger issues.

Russert was the New York Times of TV because other journalists followed his lead. He used his role as gatekeeper to define what was considered the acceptable terms of debate in the broader news industry. He censored and delegitimized anti-war voices before and in the early days of the Iraq War. He maintained his position as head of the NBC news division by not straying too far from the interests of his employer, GE, a major defense contractor.

One example is his malicious attempts to ignore and discredit Dennis Kucinich at every opportunity both times he ran. Kucinich makes an easy target but Russert was deliberate about it. He never asked Kucinich about issues he raised that conflict with the financial interests of GENBC, like media consolidation, fair trade, or acknowledged his leading role opposing the war in Congress. But he did manage to make a national story about a book passage claiming Kucinich saw a UFO.
I never heard Russert apologize for completely ignoring or dismissing out of hand everything Kucinich said about Iraq before the war started that turned out to be completely correct. I didn't hear him apologize for not strongly challenging Cheney when he went on Meet the Press to talk about Iraq having nuclear weapons.

How often did you see leading anti-war voices on Meet the Press or any NBC news program from 2001-2004? How often did you see people talking about the issues associated with pollution from GE's coal power plants?

There are lot of things about Russert that I respect but I'm bothered at everything being thrown down the memory whole in the media's revisionist history of his career. If he really was as daring and courageous as the tributes claim then he would have been fired from his job at NBC a long time ago. That's how the corporate media works.

nancy said...

Dave and Will

You're both pretty good at the "gotcha (nancy)" game yourselves :-) Nicely done. I still like him though!

rickmonday said...

I dont know, maybe Russert was doing something right. Coming from the conservative side of the aisle, I thought Russert was just as tough if not more on Republicans. So I guess if you tick off both sides then maybe that is about as close to the middle as we are going to get.

However, I do think all of the coverage of him over the weekend was overblown. I mean, after all he was just a journalist. Since when do they stop reporting the news and become the news themselves.

But God bless his soul and I pray for his family.