Late Night: The Ascension of the Russert
Picture credit: "Russ Christ," by watertiger. Click on image for larger size.
Tim Russert died a week ago. I have little to say about the man personally, because, like The Editors, I did not know him personally.
Neither am I much concerned with who will replace him on Meet the Press, as I would much prefer for that program and all similar programs to be either canceled or completely reformatted so they are not clubby little vapid insider smarmfests, hideous vehicles for the perpetration of a conventional wisdom typically at odds with the public good.
As an interviewer he could be "tough," but was rarely illuminating. After the 348th time he sprung an ancient quote in order to create the appearance of inconsistency it is quite possible that people began to catch on to his favorite tactic: it got just a bit old. And it was never very difficult to anticipate just what his other questions would be ahead of time. If you knew the game and you knew the players, you knew the lines.
That’s what is really meant when he is lauded as "fair." He played the game by the rules, and the first rule of Russert Fight Club was to never say anything that might call into question the seriousness of the Very Serious People who came on his show. You went on Meet the Press to have your legitimacy consecrated. You faced "tough" questions you and everyone else already knew the proper answer to, even if you were spouting egregious bullshit and everyone knew it. You just had to know how to play the essentially meaningless "gotcha" on the short hop: if you sounded good, you were golden. You were performing and that was understood.
Look at the reaction from wingnuttia — they know it’s a game, and how to play it, at least the savvier among them. The dreaded MSM becomes just a bit less ferociously committed to electing Democratic candidates when it comes to Tim Russert!
The thing that always impressed me the most about him was his sense of fairness. Yes, he could be tough on politicians, but as far as I could tell, he treated everyone fairly and well, whether it was people across the ideological spectrum or across the economic and class spectrum. Even though he was at the absolute top of the Washington ziggurat, he had not a trace of elitism.
So much for The Partisan Liberal Media as an article of faith on the right. Russert was the most influential journalist in Washington — but was not biased! What a racket — that MSM stuff? That’s for the rubes, (sort of like how the religious right will be continually stroked on the abortion issue, but will never achieve consummation). It’s all about belonging, about playing the game and profiting by it.
Tim Russert was at the top of his profession, a profession deeply subordinate to dominant political power. But he was in the dominant position among the dominated, which is not a bad place to be, if you can stand it. If you can bear knowing that your job is to define and police the boundaries of "acceptable" and "legitimate" political speech, boundaries that are set up precisely where the powerful want them placed so as to avoid the need to ever have to answer real questions, as opposed to questions that are merely "tough."