Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

Tim Russert

The political world was shocked yesterday by the news of Tim Russert's death.

I watched
Meet the Press regularly, and often blogged about the big stories generated by the broadcast. His moderation style was considered revolutionary for the Sunday morning talk format. For more on that see the Los Angeles Times, "Everyman of TV Politics."

In following the coverage on TV yesterday, I was fascinated by the basic fact that Russert knew pretty much everyone in the Washington political establishment. I mean, all the videotapes, all day, showed Russert meeting just about every political luminary under the sun, from presidents to party operatives to fellow journalists. Over and over, I saw the most heartfelt appreciations of the man and his life. Clearly, this election season's now left with a huge void of energy, information, and charisma.

May Russert rest in peace, and my best wishes go out to his loved ones.

Was the media coverage overblown? Did the media indulge itself, making a venerated newsman into more than his journalistic position merited? John Cole at Balloon Juice thinks so:

I liked Tim Russert, even though I thought his BS gotcha nonsense was thorough idiocy and not helping the debate at all. He was a likable guy- friendly, always smiling. I understand it is a loss for the beltway folks, and he had a lot of really good friends and meant a lot to people, and I would be dishonest if I failed to mention that I feel sad by his passing....

But let’s get something straight- what I am watching right now on the cable news shows is indicative of the problem - no clearer demonstration of the fact that they consider themselves to be players and the insiders ... This is precisely the problem. They have walked the corridors of power so long that they honestly think they are the story. It is creepy and sick and the reason politicians get away with all the crap they get away with these days.

Tim Russert was a newsman. He was not the Pope. This is not the JFK assassination, or Reagan’s death, or the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. A newsman died. We know you miss him, but please shut up and get back to work.

Cole's a prominent left-wing blogger, and for all his preamble about how Russert was a friendly, likable guy, this is a sleazy partisan attack, and Cole badly underestimates Russert's legacy and political significance.

For example, George Stephanopoulos argued yesterday that the entire professional television media establishment had been influenced by Russert's style of moderation. Sunday talk hosts took their cues from Russert. Interviews became courtroom drama; guests were held accountable; previous public statements were placed on the screen, putting the owner of those words on the spot, feet to the fire. This is tremendous innovation in the standards of democratic accountability, and we should deeply acknowlege that.

Should we commemorate Russert life less than the loss of Pope John Paul II, who revitalized Catholic theology in an age of rising religious indifference and global postmodern relativism? Perhaps. But we should not belittle the achievements of a pathbreaking journalist because his project put our ideological programs under the spotlight. That's authoritarianism, and reflects what I've noted here as the "absence of divine soul" on the contemporary left.

Take for futher elaboration the case of leftist blogger Ezra Klein, who, before Russert's death, had attacked the NBC moderater in words so filthy I cannot post them directly to my page. Ann Althouse has the links, especially to the Wonkette's expose of Klein's vicious partisan hatred.

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred has even more on the left's loathing of Russert, "How The Left Loved Tim Russert."

I've said many times that the blogosphere's the contemporary Wild West, but it's sometimes disheartening to see the left's online values reverting to the often courser standards of 19th-century political demonization.

Let's close this discussion with a beautiful, genuine remembrance. Here's Tom Brokaw's announcement of Russert's death:

Thank you, Mr. Russert. You redefined political journalism.

Photo Credit: "Russert Had a Gusto for Politics Leavened With Affability," Los Angeles Times.