Tim Russert is dead and it is certainly a tragedy for his family and friends. May he rest in peace.
Contrary to what numerous media sources are now reporting, however, Russert was not a great journalist. Rather, he was one of the many modern celebrity journalists who got so incredibly cozy with the politicians who appeared on his show that he either refused to hold their feet to the fire on substantive issues or forgot how to do this. For a guy who had such a great quantity of airtime, what’s most amazing is the lack of original insights attributed to Russert. He was Mr. Status Quo. Nothing meant more to him than playing footsie with those already in power.
Consider this recent appearance, where Russert appears to be at least two years behind the times when asked about the “revelations” of Scott McClellan’s recent book.
Russert too often refused to ask obvious questions about obviously important topics.
There have always been two legitimate sides to stories for Russert, the Republican and the Democratic, regardless of the fact that the Republican version has all too often consisted of shameless lies. He preferred to maintain access to celebrity politicians rather than practice substantive hard-hitting passionate and truth-seeking journalism that could actually achieve important things–such as save lives. Go here for dozens of additional illustrations.
On Meet the Press, Russert’s job was not serious journalism. He seemed like a pleasant fellow, but journalism will not suffer much without him. Russert fulfilled the role of question reader, but that’s about all. He had no stomach for aggressive pursuit. He didn’t know how to puncture the official media bubbles generated by conniving pubic officials. When powerful public officials sat across from him, he became a “pussycat.”
Being the well-recognized happy and familiar face welcoming the audience (and the conniving public officials) to a show doesn’t make someone a great journalist. It’s time to set aside the spate of hagiographies and to try to put his death in better perspective.
For those wanting to see a great journalist at work, go to DemocracyNow and watch Amy Goodman for five minutes.