As tactless and morbid as it might sound, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who in just a couple days grew weary (and a bit wary) of the media, ahem, overkill coverage of Tim Russert's death. But here comes Slate's Jack Shafer, doing the dirty work and calling out the media (print and electronic) for its incessant coverage of Russert's untimely passing last Friday due to a heart attack. Here's Shafer's most astute observation
I wonder whether the media grievers gave a moment of thought to how this Russert torrent they produced played with viewers and readers. Did the grievers really think Russert was so important, so vital to the nation's course, and such an elevated human being that he deserved hour upon hour of tribute?
There's also nice pulled quotes from the New York Times' Mike Liebovich's remembrance, which fairly and objectively points out some of Russert's possible flaws, including my favorite: "Mr. Russert liked to seem sheepishly above-it-all, but was also as acutely status-conscious, befitting the local water."
What irked me most about Russert was what felt like more than a newsman's obsession with politics as gamesmanship (a flaw he shared with another former political operative, George Stephanopoulos). His Red State/Blue State carping during the 2002 mid-term elections practically helped make the terms mainstream, which is a shame considering how that kind of jargon has dumbed us all down.
Russert also labored to the point of exhaustion in becoming the news, and oddly his colleagues have lauded him for this. During Sunday's episode of "Meet the Press," which fell just short of a circle jerk, Russert was remembered fondly by trying to badger one politician after another into saying with absolute certainty whether they were or weren't running for higher office. It's that obsession with "gotcha" journalism that has weakened the profession, and Russert reveled in it. And by the end, it just felt like a cheap gimmick for the show. But what bothered me most about Russert's eulogies was how he is painted as excessively fair-minded in his challenging interviews. Upon closer scrutiny, they only underscore his "gotcha" mentality, lifting quotes and throwing them at Democrats and Republicans alike, hoping for the embarrassing moment more than the extended dialog.
Which isn't to say I disliked Russert. Broadcast journalism is worse for his absence. Just look at all the NBC and affiliated network shows he graced. He was a driven journalist who truly seemed to understand far more than most that obsessive preparation and research is the key to newscasting and interviewing. But what do all his many shows and appearances say about him, and NBC? Russert became a giant because he wanted to make himself one, but also because (it could be argued) NBC suffered and still suffers from a dearth of real hard-news talent. Quick: Think of a potential replacement on "Meet the Press" alone, from the NBC stable. David Gregory? Yikes! Andrea Mitchell? Perhaps. I'd take her or PBS' Gwen Ifill, a Russert acolyte, but it's no coincidence that former news anchor Tom Brokaw has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting during the Russert tribute week. No one else at NBC has anywhere near the necessary gravitas.