So, I wasn’t going to write anything about Tim Russert’s recent death. Of course it’s sad that he leaves behind a wife and son. It’s always sad when people die. (Look at the “US Deaths in Iraq” counter to the right — there’s 4,099 US military families that are extremely sad right now.) If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that I didn’t like Tim Russert very much. But we’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead. So I won’t. But I will speak ill of the media, in general.
Does anyone out there remember when the journalist was not the story? Once upon a time — pre-Olbermann, pre-Matthews, pre -Russert — journalists had one job: deliver the news. But somewhere along the way they became more important than the news itself. I suppose when we had multiple 24-hour “news” channels, and not enough actual “news” to fill them, the “journalists” started pontificating a little bit — really just to fill the dead air. But then they started believing that the dead-air fill-talk was actually important or insightful.
Thus began the death of true journalism.
There’s a few “old school” journalists out there: Bill Moyers, for example. But for the most part, our news is now delivered with a large dose of the journalists’ personal opinion, given under the guise of “analysis.” Combine an inflated sense of personal insight with celebrity status, and you have Tim Russert. I’m sorry. I had to say it. I will never forget that in Democratic presidential debates of October 2007, Russert finally asked a question of Dennis Kucinich — the only candidate pushing for impeachment, the only candidate pushing for equal marriage — but the question Russert asked Kucinich was whether he had seen a UFO.
Tim Russert was a leader in this movement away from true reporting. Again, I am saddened that he leaves behind a family. But the mooning of the media over the past 48 hours, as though Russert were some iconic über journalist, I don’t buy it.
UPDATE: Again, I hate to be so cranky, but if we can all just take a deep breath and remember this article written last fall by Paul Waldman, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, you’ll see it’s not just me. In November 2007, Waldman wrote:
As much as any politician, Russert has constructed a persona for the benefit of the public, an identity meant to give him the authority that his actual work might not. Like most well-designed personas, it has a basis in truth but has been polished and honed to a fine sheen.
If nothing else, at least we’re deep enough into the presidential campaign that we don’t have to suffer through Russert’s endless “Are you running for president? Are you? Are you?” quizzing of potential candidates. But that’s what passes for being a “tough” interviewer these days: the pose of confrontation rather than genuinely challenging questions, the query designed to embarrass rather than enlighten, the worship of, rather than the challenge to, conventional wisdom.
The two parties’ nominees will be decided three months from now, and we can be sure that in that time, at least one or two candidates will have their campaigns upended by the answer they gave to an absurd question, delivered by Tim Russert or someone like him, about what their favorite Bible verse is, or whom they want to win the Super Bowl, or what kind of beer they like. “Aha!” the reporters will shout, as though they actually unearthed something revealing on which the race for the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth should be decided. The one whose tiny little mind devised the question will be praised to the stars for his journalistic acumen.
And they’ll continue to wonder why so many Americans are so cynical about our electoral process.