by linfar, Wed Jun 18, 2008 at 01:21:01 PM EST
The untimely death of Tim Russert, an event hailed far and wide as a tragedy not just for him but for NBC, for his family and for the nation, aroused in me an opposite reaction.
The outpouring of praise and adulation for the host of Sunday morning's Meet the Press, dumbfounded me. If others were shocked by his death, I was equally shocked by the around the clock panegyric to his father, his son and his Catholicism-- his adulation of the Pope, his patriotism and his good guy persona.
The fact is Tim Russert, longtime head of NBC's Washington Bureau, was the quintessential non-reporter. And there was no journalist more implicated in disseminating the Bush administration's propaganda about Iraq.
More like a Brave New World version of a journalist, than the real deal, Russert was America's leading exponent of entertainment vs information. His famous `gotcha' style--wherein each Sunday his viewers waited for his punch, jab and pounce on that show's guest--came to homes every Sunday for more than a decade, but no one mentioned on the occasion of his death that show's journalistic contributions to the public good. That he was good, no one doubted. But his work was not evaluated.
I suppose that is because after 4,000 deaths, and a totally discredited intervention that the American people have resoundingly rejected, no one wants to remember how he promoted the Iraq war. And no one wants to admit how his much vaunted journalistic integrity went sailing out the window after he revealed without a quiver of distress at the Scooter Libby trial he had cooperated with the FBI in revealing his source. Finally, there was no media personality on the public stage who was closer or more fawning towards the Bush-Cheney White House than Tim Russert.
President Bush's swift outpouring of sympathy at Russert' untimely death, if contrasted with his Katrina comments, were a marvel of timely consideration.
As a former news reporter for the Associated Press I remember when reporters actually believed we had a responsibility to ensure "the people's right to know." And I remember when they considered it part of their job description to remain objective. So when Walter Cronkite at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago said, "Bunch of thugs down there," referring to the Andy Frain ushers who were assaulting both the protestors and the delegates, this remark in itself was newsworthy. When Cronkite made that comment I was on the floor of the convention sending stories back to CNS of Los Angeles and striving to emulate my heroes: I.F. Stone, Art Buchwald, Edward R. Murrow, Sander Vanocour, Oriana Fallaci, and Norman Mailer for "Armies of the Night" and "Miami and the Siege of Chicago."
Tim Russert, for me, is am embarrassment to the history of journalism in America. Despite having aided and abetted the Iraq war propaganda he not only never hosted a single Iraq war veteran, he condemned as unpatriotic the showing of our military dead on Nightline in 2004.
Russert, in my opinion, was a purveyor of political porn who promoted sensation over substance. Change, growth and the ability to rethink an issue by American politicians was routinely portrayed as dishonesty. And God help the politician who had a long career in politics or a long public record. Russert excelled at researching every nuance and every change as if these were proof of malfeasance and dissembling. Unfortunately, he never turned this propensity on his friends in the Bush Administration.
Madeline Zane writes:
The biggest hit parade of Bush administration lies -- Cheney's claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met an Iraq official in Prague, Rice's claim that the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud -- all happened across the desk from Tim Russert on Meet the Press. Those lies were that much more dangerous because they were broadcast, without being questioned, on a show with an inexplicable reputation for hard-headed journalism.
In fact, during the Scooter Libby trial, Cheney's former communications director testified that Meet the Press was their best forum for giving interviews because they were allowed to control their own message without being questioned.
The fact is the misinformation never stopped.
On the May 20 broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) suggested without challenge from host Tim Russert that the alleged plot by six men to carry out an armed attack on the Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey represents proof that if the United States withdraws forces from Iraq, terrorists "don't plan to stop in Baghdad. They are coming here as soon as they can get here." However, as Media Matters for America has documented, the assertion that terrorists will "com[e] here" following a U.S. troop withdrawal is widely challenged by experts.
This is from Corrente:
In a way, Russert's deliberate distortion in Wednesday's debate made Hillary look better to most of us, and not only because of her blanket rejection of torture as some kind of acceptable post-9/11 American norm; when Russert sprang his trap, announcing that the scenario she'd just rejected had been offered up by her husband and our former President, Bill Clinton, her quick witted response - "He isn't the one standing here" - was her best moment of the evening.
So far, though, not many people seem to have realized that Russert's characterization of Clinton's Meet The Press comments, circa, Sept of 2006, was essentially a lie.
And no one ever seemed to be bothered by Russert's hobnobbing with those he wrote about and interviewed. In December 2003, Tim Russert partied along with William Safire at Donald Rumsfeld's `winter mixer' and then "On Sunday's Today" December 14, 2003, he spoke with NBC's Campbell Brown:
I actually had the opportunity to see the secretary of Defense last night, and they were in an extremely festive holiday mood beyond their normal demeanors...I saw the director of CIA, Tenet, and said, "You know, I had the strangest dream last night that Saddam Hussein was taken captive," which I actually had on--on Friday night. He looked at me in this poker face and said, "Happy holidays.
One month later, in January, 2004, Sam Husseini, Communications Director, Institute for Public Accuracy, sent Russert a fax pointing out some egregious errors Russert had circulated about weapons inspectors in Iraq. Russert never admitted receiving it. On the occasion of Russert's death, Husseini wrote:
The survivors of those killed in the U.S.'s war in Iraq since the 2003 invasion cannot simply blame Bush. Under the guise of "tough journalism" Russert and others disseminated lies and built the case for invasion even before Bush got to the White House.
In an article titled, "How Russert Helped Plant the Seeds for the Iraq War" Husseini included these salient points:
December 19, 1999: With Al Gore as guest, Tim Russert says on Meet the Press: "One year ago Saddam Hussein threw out all the inspectors who could find his chemical or nuclear capability." Russert asks Gore what he's going to do about this.
Soon afterward: Sam Husseini leaves a message on Russert's answering machine, and speaks to two of his assistants, telling them the inspectors were withdrawn by the UN at the request of the United States.
January 2, 2000: With Madeleine Albright as guest, Tim Russert repeats the error on Meet the Press: "One year ago, the inspectors were told, `Get out,' by Saddam Hussein." Russert asks Albright what she's going to do about this.
January 21, 2000: Sam Husseini writes a letter to Russert, again laying out the facts, and requests a correction.
January 22, 2000-March 19, 2003: Russert never corrects his error.
March 19, 2003-present: Hundreds of thousands of people die in Iraq War. Russert dies, not in Iraq War. Official Washington weeps copious tears for Russert and his Extraordinary Journalistic Standards. http://thismodernworld.com/4354
This lie about the inspectors echoed through much of the political-media system around the time Russert told it, and helped set the stage for the invasion after 9/11 -- and it was a predecessor of the lie that Bush has repeatedly stated since 2003 that he invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein did not allow the inspectors into Iraq.
Russert not only aided and abetted Bush and Co on Iraq, his errors and bias in other areas were legion. Rather than help his audience become better informed he kept them misinformed, often refusing to provide the very information needed to understand the actions of our government. And no better example of this bias can be noted than that of his so-called reportage on the Clintons.
And this predates his behavior in the now infamous MSNBC debate on Oct. 30, 2007, about which the next day Taylor Marsh wrote:
There were 52 questions asked last night; 25 had to do with either Hillary or Bill Clinton, including very personal insinuations, with 22 of the 25 being abjectly hostile.
Tim Russert asked 26 questions; 14 were to Clinton, with 5 directly targeting her personally...
In contrast, Barack Obama got asked what he would do about air travel; whether there was life beyond earth; and the question on which all Americans' safety depends, What are you going to dress as on Halloween? When the air travel question drooled out of Russert's mouth I thought I'd accidentally hit the remote to the Travel channel. But Russert's softballs to Obama when compared to Clinton were nakedly obvious to anyone paying attention. When you couple Russert's penchant for his all boys pannels on "Meet the Press," there's only one conclusion to draw...
But one of the most telling moments was when Tim Russert held up a document and asked Clinton about National Archives documents:
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I'd like to follow up because, in terms of your experience as first lady, in order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave, because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there and they are moving, and they are releasing as they do their process. And I am fully in favor of that. Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available. Others are becoming available. And I think that, you know, the Archives will continue to move as rapidly as the circumstances and processes demand.
MR. RUSSERT: But there was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban? SEN. CLINTON: Well, that's not my decision to make. And I don't believe that any president or first lady has. But certainly we'll move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.
If you saw Russert hold up that document you likely thought it came within the last year. Seeing Russert's chubby red face all flushed with excitement, in fact, you might have even gotten the impression that the document he held had just come through in a faxmachine, specifically for the debate. Oh, how important the theatrics of the moment,especially when moderator turns into "Meet the Press" attack dog.
After spending time on the phone today with a source very familiar with archive procedures, the truth of the matter is quite different. The letter Russert held up was from 1994. It's also standard operating procedures for all presidents.
The document was from 1994!! The whole episode as based on a phony issue and Tim Russert led the smear. But it was great box office. People talked about it for days.
I am not going to belabor Russert's well-known anti-Clinton bias, his gotcha-gambit-style replayed endlessly on Sunday morning's as if this were real journalism, and his responsibility for the Iraq War along with his uncritical and pandering to the Bush Cheney Whitehouse.
What I am going to say is that when we assert that the mainstream media is a problem, Russert was a glaring example. He was not one of the `good guys' in both the way he created headlines and then conducted his witchunts for ratings. He was not accurate so many times they are beyond counting, and he was not an honest media broker. Russert way too often grandstanded for maximum audience impact regardless of where the truth might lie.
Of all the things one might put on his tombstone: Good father, devout Catholic, and loving son-- if one were to be honest and refer to his professional life-- one might add as someone did in a comment on a blog :
And I still hate Hillary!