Tim, before the accident

Everyone has their favorite moment from the Bill Moyers documentary last night, this was mine:

BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable.

Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It’s a circular, self-confirming leak.

TIM RUSSERT: I don’t know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.

TIM RUSSERT: What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.

BILL MOYERS: Bob Simon didn’t wait for the phone to ring.

BILL MOYERS: When you said a moment ago when we started talking to people who knew about aluminum tubes. What people-who were you talking to?

BOB SIMON: We were talking to people – to scientists – to scientists and to researchers and to people who had been investigating Iraq from the start.

BILL MOYERS: Would these people have been available to any reporter who called or were they exclusive sources for 60 minutes?

BOB SIMON: No, I think that many of them would have been available to any reporter who called.

After sitting in the Libby trial with jaw-dropping incredulity as Russert admitted he’d spilled his guts to the FBI when they first contacted him and then later refused to testify claiming he was protecting his source, and then listening to him say that all conversations were off the record unless otherwise specified, I thought we’d reached some sort of nadir in terms of Russert’s flat-out ignorance of basic journalistic principles.  I was wrong.

What kind of a journalist sits around and waits for people to call him? Well, journalists don’t do that, but then again he’s the guy Cathie Martin said could be counted upon to let the OVP “control message.”  I think “political operative,” “shill” and “wanker” are all probably more apt.

It’s astonishing that he’s still allowed to host perhaps the most influential of all the Sunday morning political talk shows, and yet, he is.

If you haven’t seen the documentary you can watch it here.  As Glenn Greenwald says, there aren’t a whole lot of revelations in it, but to watch it all unfold chronologically in context is quite sobering.  The story of how the administration’s case for war was bogus was there — the Knight Ridder reporters didn’t have trouble uncovering it — and yet our media elites continue to shrug their shoulders and say “how were we supposed to know?”

Eric Boehlert was great, and even though I thought the question that Moyers was asking Peter Beinert was kind of jive Beinart still managed to make an ass of himself.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s highly, highly recommended.

Update: John Casper points us to this rather astonishing moment in Chris Cillizza’s recent ComPost chat:

New York: The Fourth Estate check/balance function Halberstam and the best journalists of his generation fulfilled are exactly those that have been so fundamentally abandoned, repudiated and scorned by our nation’s most prominent and influential media stars. Why do you think the Halberstams of yesteryear appear to have morphed into the “off-the-record” Russerts of today?

Chris Cillizza: I disagree with the premise. While there is no question that David Halberstam’s work was groundbreaking and is credited by many with creating a sense that the White House wasn’t shooting straight with the American people, I think modern journalists are doing their very best to emulate that sort of reporting.

And, frankly, Tim Russert is one of the best examples (I believe) of that kind of accountability journalism. I can’t count the number of politicians I have watched squirm and sweat when Russet uttered the words “Let me put something up on the screen for you and our viewers.”

Tim Russert is like David Halberstram?   I have to say, this is one of the more remarkable analogies I’ve ever heard.  Can you say “audition?”  I thought you could.

Update 2: Digby wonders why “they” didn’t call Timmeh, either.  Just not very hard.

Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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