Ain’t Nothin’ But a…

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Last week on NBC or MSNBC (or possibly even CNN – they’re practically indistinguishable at this point) someone marked the moment where – one week prior, “we learned of the death of Tim Russert”.

It struck me odd. Who receives that sort of recognition in our culture? In the past, I could remember only people of immense importance and accomplishment and often only if they had died in some tragic circumstances such as a plane crash or assassination. An FDR, a JFK, a Buddy Holly or an Elvis (though we don’t know for sure he’s actually dead).

Apparently, Gene Lyons had a similar reaction [H/T Bob Somerby]:

Few events so reveal society’s unacknowledged values as a royal funeral. So it was following the untimely death of NBC newsman and “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert. We have no formal aristocracy in the United States, but Washington has a selfappointed media peerage. Russert was a political celebrity / courtier of exalted rank. [snip] On “Hardball,” they held an Irish wake for several days. All that was missing was a bottle of Jameson’s, and that may have been under the table.
Of course, Russert was of very modest importance or accomplishment:
To his grieving colleagues and many viewers, Russert embodied the best of TV journalism. Others think very differently about his legacy.
Lyons explains why Russert’s colleagues liked him, because of his apparently genuine warmness. My son met Russert by chance one day and confirmed that widely shared impression of him. But being a nice guy is a dubious asset when your job is to reveal the truth about the politics and the powerful that surround you.
Back to Russert and Washington journalism: In the sport of beagling, two bad faults can get a hound disqualified. One is “cold-trailing.” I had a beagle named Leon who’d hoot down scent trails so old the rabbits that left them were probably being digested by coyotes. Leon made so much noise about nothing that my pals dubbed him “The Journalist.” Then there’s “ghost-trailing.” Unable to keep up, a hound will sometimes invent a fictitious rabbit and make a great show of running it. Other dogs learn to ignore him. Washington courtier-journalists have done plenty of both recently. Russert was among the worst. Like most, he obsessed over Bill Clinton’s sexual sins, but handled the Bush administration’s Iraq war propaganda like the Baltimore Catechism: Memorize, regurgitate. Linda Hirshman nails it in The Nation: “The political leaders who did the best answering Tim Russert’s questions in the last seven years—Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell—are the authors of the most disastrous American foreign policy since the Vietnam War, and maybe since 1776. The Russert Test was a disaster because it rewarded people willing to lie unabashedly on TV.”

Russert’s colleagues are of course free to mourn the death of their friend - I’d bet Russert is about as good as it gets in their world – let’s just not get carried away about his “journalism”. Tim Russert was no Elvis.

[Cross-posted at Dispassionate liberal]


Ara Rubyan Author Profile Page said:

Great point. It's like when you read some typical New York Times feature about the best pizza in the entire USA and -- surprise! -- it can be in some hole-in-the-wall joint down the street and around the corner from the Gray Lady. Sorry, that's not reporting.

And, more importantly, there's this...

When David Halberstam died (also very suddenly -- a car crash, which I think has something to do with the shock factor) there wasn't nearly this sense of loss. Admittedly, Russert was an immediate presence on television every day, so he made in impact on far more people. But let's leave it at that -- don't make him into a demigod of journalism. Halberstam was what Russert only wished he could have been: a hard-hitting reporter who spoke truth to power.

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