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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Russert goes, and maybe American political journalism with him 
Saturday, June 14th, 2008 | 02:09 pm [commentary, news, obits]
The death yesterday of Tim Russert becomes all the more tragic when I ponder what remains of political journalism in this country without him. With most of the televised media dominated by self-promoters or shills for one major political party or another, Russert was like an honest umpire. If he cared which side won or lost, he didn’t show it; he just tried his best to call it down the middle.
It would be too cynical of me to say that Russert was the only one of his kind worth trusting, but I’m tempted to say it anyway. In the wake of his death, there have been as many tributes paid to his objectivity as to him personally. He was known to prepare assiduously for the interviews he conducted with senators, congressmen, governors, and former and sitting presidents on Meet the Press — looking for contradictions or vagaries with which to confront his subjects. He did this not to humiliate those he interviewed, not to attack them — I never saw him regard any of his guests with anything other than politeness and respect — but to ask for explanations, to force them to account for their statements and their actions.
Russert was beholden to no one, and never claimed to speak for anyone other than himself. He was a consummate journalist, and the most skilled interviewer on television. He never behaved as though he had any special authority, never used his weekly hour of Meet the Press, his more laid-back Tim Russert show on CNBC, or his countless appearances as an analyst on TV and radio for self-promotion or to try and put himself over the field he was covering.
Compare him to an egotist like Bill O’Reilly, and the contrast is blinding. Russert could be a tenacious interviewer when necessary, but he never grandstanded, never shouted down his guests, never moralized or feigned outrage or engaged in any of the other infantile histrionics that are O’Reilly’s stock-in-trade. Russert never bragged about the size of his audience, even though Meet the Press routinely drew a larger audience on Sunday morning than The O’Reilly Factor does in its plum primetime slot.
There are other voices in political media that I find worth hearing. I think Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough to be entertaining and sometimes insightful commentators, and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to be funny and cutting satirists. But I’m trying very hard to think of another journalist in the political field even in Russert’s league, and I’m coming up empty. By all accounts he was a wonderful man, and his friends and family will miss him greatly. But the way he handled himself at work, selflessly and with unquestioned integrity, gave the rest of us a reason to miss him, too.
Saturday, June 14th, 2008 | 10:31 pm (UTC)
The biggest shock for me after I got over how different the election is going to be without him, is who is going to replace him. Not only on Meet the Press, but on election night, and giving election coverage leading up to election night. Those shoes are going to be awfully big to fill.
Sunday, June 15th, 2008 | 02:54 am (UTC)
You ain't kiddin'. Who else does NBC have — hell, who else does anybody have — who can provide the sort of objective, level-headed, nuts-and-bolts analysis that Russert provided? Nobody that I can think of.

And finding a new moderator for Meet the Press . . . I don't envy whoever winds up getting the job, because Russert is pretty much irreplaceable.
Sunday, June 15th, 2008 | 07:24 am (UTC)
I'm betting Chuck Todd but he seems kind of young for the job.
Sunday, June 15th, 2008 | 02:22 pm (UTC)
Not being a member of the cult of the Chuck, I hadn't considered him, but he's way better than anyone else I've heard so far. Maybe Chuck Todd would be just the guy for the job.
Sunday, June 15th, 2008 | 04:32 pm (UTC)
There's a cult? Why wasn't I informed?
Sunday, June 15th, 2008 | 04:47 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't know if it's a real, official, shaved-heads, multiple marriage, animal-sacrificing cult, but Chuck definitely has a small but devoted following, voiced most prominently, as far as I've found, by the blog Viva Chuck Todd.

I also just found this one, Chuck Todd Facts, which makes Viva Chuck Todd look like the C-Span website by comparison.
Monday, June 16th, 2008 | 07:25 pm (UTC)
I just like hearing him talk. When watching MSNBC he is so much more level headed than the blowhards Olbermann and Matthews. Not that I don't watch Matthews and Olbermann.
Monday, June 16th, 2008 | 10:30 pm (UTC)
Level-headedness would be nice from whoever ends up taking the reins of Meet the Press, be it Chuck Todd or whoever else. That was one of my favorite things about Tim Russert, he never seemed to be showboating. If he knew he was right and a guest was wrong, he would present the facts and let them speak for themselves.

I don't think there's been any official announcement yet, but I found this article by Michael Calderone over at Politico.com, who quotes an independent analyst who puts Chuck Todd on a short list of possible replacements that also includes Chris Matthews and David Gregory.

I find Matthews too argumentative and prone to interupt his guests to watch him for long, and Gregory, who I've heard suggested for the job in a few other stories written since Russert's death, has just never impressed me much. So if that's the list, I'd go with Chuck Todd in a heartbeat.

But who knows . . . maybe Brokaw will fill in temporarily for a few months, ala Bob Scheiffer on the CBS Evening News before Katie Couric debuted, giving NBC time to make a more considered decision and pick someone they can keep in the chair for the long haul.

Edited at 2008-06-16 10:31 pm (UTC)
Thursday, June 19th, 2008 | 03:03 pm (UTC)
Personally, Tim Russert seemed like a genuinely good guy. Numerous anecdotes poured in about how often he would call or send a card to someone he barely knew, just because he heard they were having problems. He undoubtedly did much good in his personal life, and he sounds like the kind of person I would’ve liked to have as a friend. He seemed to care a lot about his family, and especially seemed to watch closely day-to-day over his elderly father, "Big Russ," of whom he wrote and spoke frequently and fondly. My heart aches for his friends, co-workers, and especially his family, who had their loved one snatched from them with no warning, far too young, and without a chance to say goodbye.

But professionally, he was not a "great journalist," because a great journalist searches for the truth and asks fundamental questions about the status-quo. He was successful at rebuilding Meet the Press into the highest-rated Sunday morning news program. He was successful at becoming a celebrity and making a lot of money. In short, he was a successful media animal. But his very tenure at an establishment mouthpiece like Meet the Press is de facto evidence of his real professional legacy, of which this article’s transcript, and the gushing tributes this week from establishment politicians and journalists, are further proof: Tim Russert was a shill for the state and the power elite who control it.
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