Monday, June 16, 2008


In a post about Russet's passing, With Great Power Comes Great Numbers of Angry Critics, Matthew Yglesias links to a fuller account, Goodbye to the Master, where he references a Washington Monthly essay he penned last year, The Unbearable Inanity of Tim Russert. In that, Yglesias wrote:
Unfortunately, Russert's brand of journalism, rather than being ghettoized as a pointless or perverse form of entertainment—like shoulder self-dislocation or cat surfing—has immense influence. ...

Viewers watch a candidate getting grilled by Russert not to assess the candidate's views but to assess his or her ability to withstand the grilling. And, when this sort of toughness and sparring becomes its own reward, the vacuity of the questioning is almost guaranteed. After all, if you asked a politician a serious, important question and got a perfectly good answer, then maybe, for a moment, you couldn't be tough. Instead, Russert relies on his crutch of confronting politicians with allegedly contradictory statements they've made—to highly monotonous effect.

Russert's goal isn't to inform his audience. He's there to "make news"—to get his guest to say something embarrassing that lands in the next day's papers or on the NBC Nightly News.
I read that on Saturday. Then, while watching MTP's tribute to Russert on Sunday, after a set-up of Russert asking people if they were going to run for president, I heard Tom Brokaw say:
MR. BROKAW: Tim's very good friend, Mike Barnicle, my pal as well. Mike and I have talked about this a lot. Tim had a great--that question was not just idle speculation. He wanted to land on the front page of the newspaper the next morning. That was one of the tests that he had here. MEET THE PRESS was successful if they drove the news cycle.
I nearly fell out of my chair. Yglesias was critical of MTP under Russert because he wasn't informing the audience, but instead, trying to land on the front page of the newspapers. Brokaw said exactly the same thing and portrayed it a virtue.

In other village news, on Friday, Charlie Rose had a retrospective on Russert. In it, he briefly mentioned that he had sold his house to Russert. Talk about a tight social network.


On the Charlie Rose retrospective, the point was made of Russert's use of graphics for quotes of the guest so that the latter could not challenge them. While this was a good idea, at times the graphics would be quite lengthy, in effect providing him with more "face time" than the guest. Some guests were smart enough to anticipate such graphics and came armed with their full statements to demonstrate that the graphic quotes may have been out of context. The end result was less give and take and more "gotcha" and "counter-gotcha." Russert tried to make himself the star rather than permitting his guests to open up.

By Blogger Shag from Brookline, at 6/17/2008 3:50 AM  

sfb: point well taken

Speaking of graphics, didn't some guests come with their own graphics (e.g. bar or pie charts) to hold up and try and get on the television?

At that point, it's clearly a duel between Russert and whoever is on - not always an enlightening procedure.

By Blogger Quiddity, at 6/17/2008 9:21 AM  

one of his so called friends/pundit let the cat out of the bag when he admitted policy wasn't one of russert's strengths

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/17/2008 11:33 PM  

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