To political observers and observers of the media charged with covering politics, I call your attention to a very provocative Harper’s Magazine “essay”:http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/09/0082168 written by Lewis Lapham, entitled “Elegy For A Rubber Stamp.” It’s full-blown critique of the “five-star good-bye” and seemingly endless string of eulogistic NBC and MSNBC commentary given to Tim Russert following his fatal heart attack.
Fans of the late “Meet The Press” host are sure to be offended by Lapham’s deconstruction of Russert’s reputation has a tough-as-nails interviewer who held politicians’ feet to the proverbial fire.
Lapham pretty much concludes that Russert wasn’t as tough with the inside-the-beltway spinners, dissemblers and outright liars as he should’ve been — and concludes that as $5 million a year TV personality serving at the pleasure of corporate sponsors Russert wouldn’t have survived if his genuine mission was to seek and expose the truth. He compares Russert’s style to that of “an accommodating headwaiter,.”
That’s pretty harsh, but I have to confess that there were aspects to Russert’s professional modus operandi that gave me pause.
For example, James Carville and Marty Matalin, the political odd-couple, were frequent guests on his show…not that there was anything inherently wrong with that. What bothered me was the obvious personal friendshhip Russert had with Matalin-Carville, which struck me as a conflict of interest. They are the ultimate spin doctors but Russert, it seemed, was never going to call them on anything to make them look bad to a national audience.
Among the many, many expressions of sorrow over Russert’s passing, Matalin noted how Rusert “respected polticians.” She added, “He never treated them with cynicism that attends some of these interviews. So they had a place to be loved.”
A place to be loved? Let us be reminded here that Matalin is the publishing executive who helped nurture Jerome Corsi’s “Obama Nation,” the book that may do to Barack Obama what the Swift Boat attacks did to John Kerry.
One wonders how Russert, had he lived, would’ve handled Matalin’s role in this effort to discredit the Democratic candidate for president. Would he have grilled her at the risk of losing a friend?
His job was not to be loved, or to provide a safe haven for loveless pols. As Lapham pointed out there was a time way back in the distant past when a newspaperman would be damned for not having done his job properly if more than two people showed up at his funeral.