Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tim Russert - Rest In Peace

The shocking news on Friday was that Tim Russert died suddenly of a heart attack at age 58. This happened roughly a month from when Clinton advisor and certifiable loon Terry McAuliffe prematurely declared Tim's dad to be dead. I don't know what that means, but all I'm saying is that if Terry starts talking about your dad, I'd do whatever I could to get him to stop.

I've had some complex thoughts over the days since I heard the news. First and foremost, I've TiVoed Meet the Press since I first got a TiVo. But on the other hand, I actually watch it a lot less frequently than I did back when I used to post here four or five times a day. A friend of mine said he felt guilty because his first thought was, Maybe we'll get someone good to host MTP. Maybe. But "good" wasn't really at issue. He had the right idea about it, right? Russert used to talk about when he first took over hosting the show, he got in touch with the very first moderator of MTP. He asked him what he should do and the old dude replied (to paraphrase): Learn everything you can about your guest and take the opposing viewpoint.

Tim did that. Sort of. He definitely gathered quotes and items and gotcha pieces. The problem was how much harder he was on Democrats than Republicans. He'd let a Republican get away with lying or changing the issue. A Democrat would go on there and Tim would keep harping on the same point over and over. I mean, watch the episode with President Bush if you really want to see the softballs fly.

But is that evidence of bias? I'd say no. I think the bigger problem with Russert was the way he epitomized the concept of "Washington Insider." Tim was the kind of journalist who really got off on mingling at those Washington parties, going to the correspondent's dinner, having high-level sources and the like. When you view his performances through that prism, you can see why he would take it easier on the bigger fish - they're his buds. They're the guys he's going to grab a whiskey with after the show. And as we all know, it was this culture in Washington that enabled the Bush administration to start a vicious and endless war in Iraq. Tim has that to answer for.

And finally, I can never forgive that Russert was reporting on the Valerie Plame affair even after it became known that he was one of the main players in the case. He never mentioned his involvement in it until well after it was over, and he would sit on TV talking about the case as though he was an unaffected outsider. That's not journalism, I'm sorry to say. But it, once again, highlights his uber-insider status. When the White House wants to pass along lies/classified information/hit pieces to be repeated without scrutiny, who they gonna call? Little Russ.

All of that said, he's the closest thing we have... had... to a real journalist on TV. Who else? Wolf Blitzer? Jesus, talk about an empty vessel. Stephanopoulos or Charlie Gibson? Did you see that debate? Brian Williams? He's too busy worrying about charming you and being funny on The Daily Show to be a good journalist. Olbermann? I love the guy, but he's got an axe to grind, let's face it. Katie Couric? Isn't there a kitten being rescued from a tree somewhere that needs covering? There's no one on TV right now who would be as good at MTP as Tim Russert was, however flawed he might have been. So at the end of all this pondering, I find myself missing him. It's a real shame.

I'll leave you with this, some words of advice he talked about once on a talk show that I've never forgotten. He was talking about his dad, Big Russ. He said his dad used to say: You gotta eat! He used to hear that all the time when he was a kid. Tim said it wasn't until he was an adult that he heard and understood the full expression. Being an Irishman's Irishman, the expression actually was: "You gotta eat... if you're gonna drink."

Now that's some wisdom you can use. Farewell, Tim! I'll be tipping back a Jameson tonight in your honor.

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