The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

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Flex
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The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Flex » 17 Jun 2008, 6:03pm

Thought an actual thread on the subject may be worthwhile. Mostly because my brain is about to explode after reading the 50 millionth blog and news post exclaiming what a model of journalistic awesome the man was and how the landscape is a little duller without his presence.

I think it sucks he died. It's tragic and from all accounts he was a decent and nice guy. But, as Hooky pointed out in another thread - journalistically speaking the guy was the consummate insider. He wasn't agenda driven per se, but his insider access was his lifeblood and he couldn't rock the boat. I don't necessarily blame him for this, it is what it is, but he wasn't the embodiment of a vital fourth estate by any stretch of the imagination.

I think people liked his personality (fair enough, as I said, by all accounts he was a genuinely decent guy) and that he wasn't explicitly agenda driven. That he was still hamstrung by having to be "buds" with those he should have been asking the hard questions is being swept under the rug by most (again, I sympathize. You don't want to [for the most part] speak ill of the dead)... not 'round these parts from the sounds of it though. Which is always nice.

In any case, I think it's a sad commentary when someone who is just generally insidery and not an explicitly raving like Hannity or something is considered one of brightest lights in the field.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Dr. Medulla » 17 Jun 2008, 6:52pm

Yeah, he showed that you don't have to be a malicious liar to be a detriment to journalistic profession. Just being an insider, even one loved by all, is bad enough. If a journalist should err, it's on the side of what's good for the public, not the public servant. The MSM has abandoned that notion (if it ever had it) and whether Russert was a nice guy doesn't change the fact that he wasn't good at his job.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Wolter » 18 Jun 2008, 9:26am

What you guys said. It always annoyed me that he constantly lobbed softballs but had the reputation of being a "tough interview."

Still, as Flex said, he was likely a decent human being. So I won't be dancing on his grave or nothin'.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Rat Patrol » 18 Jun 2008, 10:34am

I think there's always a place for an insider, so long as you also have outsiders to provide an outsider's perspective. Why the fuck should you get your opinions from one source anyway? Anyone worth their salt knows that ANYTHING, even straight reporting, is expressed by humans and thus colored by their biases. If you want to be well-informed you HAVE to be well-read on multiple sources. And not the phoney-baloney equal-time fact vs. batshit trick Fox and imitators pull...but multiple credible sources. For politics, that means contrasting insider, outsider, and other sources. You can't compartmentalize it any other way unless you're looking to fit the facts to a bias.

As insiders go Russert was definitely all that. At least vs. the attention whore pundits who just make shit up. I minored in journalism...REAL research and preparation is a totally lost art in the profession. The crusty old embittered profs all taught it as paramount to the profession, because they all came up in the Woodward & Bernstein era. But all my fucktard classmates wanted to be TV talking heads, talking head Metro columnists who moonlighted on TV, or a Matt Drudge passing off other people's reporting for their own celebrity (this was during Lewinsky-gate). Now they all want to be bloggers. It was completely pointless to even teach good fundamentals because they would just regurgitate armchair-quarterbacking talking points in return, even in the class discussions about real dogged reporting. I swear I saw every veteran prof I ever had in the journo school die a little more inside as each class wore on throughout the semester.

What you have to say in Russert's favor is that he was bar none the best researcher on TV. Even though his gotcha questions were shtick, the guy still worked 7 day weeks reading every fucking statement ever uttered by every one of his guests, read every book and op-ed they ever wrote, played his inside connections to dig around every one they ever knew, and read all the reporting on them. And then have instant recall of it all. Which is damn hard when you're talking about guests who are majority Congressmen who have mountains upon mountains upon mountains of public-record and C-SPAN time on them. On pure journalistic grounds, he was the best-prepared in the biz. Bar none. How he used that as an insider on an insider's show is a little controversial, but having studied the nuts-and-bolts of reporting (and hating it because it's damn hard and unrewarding to do right...you have to be maniacally OCD to pursue as many dead leads as it takes to cover all your ground, which is why nobody even tries to)...he was a frigging Superman at it. So I think there is some genuine basis for reverence there...just not from the pundit class that's bloviating the hardest. When really good meat-and-potatoes journalists praise him, and cite research as one of the biggest reasons for doing so...that resonates a bit more. At least with me it does. You just have to tune out the din from the blowhards to even hear those people, because they usually ain't the ones hogging face time on TV.

Now, he did annoy me a lot for the same reasons...insider = echo chamber contributor. But I think the reason for that is that he was the ONLY ONE of his class who did have his bases covered locktight on the facts, therefore you did lament the missed opportunities with the narrow insider angle he attacked on. Which meant too many things went unreported and too much frivolous Washington posturing got amplified just like everyone else does. There was no real spread of voices and perspectives who could cover the spectrum with the same degree of research...outsider, left-er, right-er, alternative, underground, wider line of questioning, more investigative approach (Bill Moyers sort of fills that role, but he does longform specials not regular shows). Thus you're stuck with either Russert doing his shtick (doing it well, but still shtick)...or the utter wastes of human flesh and fanners of the flames like Chris Matthews and the true brainless hackery class. Or an empty anchor suit like Wolf Blitzer. Even the occasional zirconium-in-the-rough like Olbermann isn't really analogous to what role a Russert type serves anyway. And that's a failure of the utterly useless corporate mainstream media, and the farm system that produces these dolts, that they can't and won't produce a spread of well-read interviewers to give the viewer that necessary spread of sources. I don't have a problem with Russert...there just should be lots of different Russert-like moderators filling different roles on the spread, because someone that narrow-casted on a specific purpose just can't be all things to everyone. And now even he's gone and irreplaceable in that role.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Dr. Medulla » 18 Jun 2008, 10:59am

Just a couple points that I disagree with …
Rat Patrol wrote:I think there's always a place for an insider, so long as you also have outsiders to provide an outsider's perspective.
But that ignores that govts and corporations and special interest groups already have their own press agents who put out the inside position. We don't need journalists who are insiders to anything. It's great if they have access to certain figures, but it's worthless when they start thinking and presenting like politicians and CEOs.
What you have to say in Russert's favor is that he was bar none the best researcher on TV. Even though his gotcha questions were shtick, the guy still worked 7 day weeks reading every fucking statement ever uttered by every one of his guests, read every book and op-ed they ever wrote, played his inside connections to dig around every one they ever knew, and read all the reporting on them. And then have instant recall of it all.
And yet where was his research skills on, most notably, the case for invading Iraq? There were plenty of investigative journalists and foreign political figures who put forth a case that the WMD claim was extremely weak. Yet Russert was in lock-step with the White House. There's research to cover as many angles to a topic and then there's research to confirm as deeply a prior conclusion of a topic.

I agree with you that he had the tools to do his job well—chiefly, a willingness to amass information—but I don't think that he used those tools to hold special interests' feet to the fire on behalf of the general public.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Rat Patrol » 18 Jun 2008, 11:23am

Dr. Medulla wrote:Just a couple points that I disagree with …
Rat Patrol wrote:I think there's always a place for an insider, so long as you also have outsiders to provide an outsider's perspective.
But that ignores that govts and corporations and special interest groups already have their own press agents who put out the inside position. We don't need journalists who are insiders to anything. It's great if they have access to certain figures, but it's worthless when they start thinking and presenting like politicians and CEOs.
What you have to say in Russert's favor is that he was bar none the best researcher on TV. Even though his gotcha questions were shtick, the guy still worked 7 day weeks reading every fucking statement ever uttered by every one of his guests, read every book and op-ed they ever wrote, played his inside connections to dig around every one they ever knew, and read all the reporting on them. And then have instant recall of it all.
And yet where was his research skills on, most notably, the case for invading Iraq? There were plenty of investigative journalists and foreign political figures who put forth a case that the WMD claim was extremely weak. Yet Russert was in lock-step with the White House. There's research to cover as many angles to a topic and then there's research to confirm as deeply a prior conclusion of a topic.

I agree with you that he had the tools to do his job well—chiefly, a willingness to amass information—but I don't think that he used those tools to hold special interests' feet to the fire on behalf of the general public.
If the well weren't dry and every up-and-comer's priorities fucked up about legwork being optional and unnecessary (which goes hand-in-hand with former disillusioned journo students like me who thought that quaint research stuff was still important, and said "FUCK NO!" after surveying what the scene had actually turned into), then we probably would have all those flanks covered. We don't. That makes the limitations of best-of-a-weak-lot people like Russert stick out more. I don't think that narrow-caster insider tack would be such a problem in another era. Because everyone got the same schooling in preparedness, and even if he was more mentally ill than the rest about being a completist you would still have the same proficiency on display in others. He'd be one of many. And most voids would be covered. Instead you don't. And we're actually put in the position of fearing the replacement options for his shtick-y presence because nearly all available candidates are 100 times worse hacks who've never given a shit about reading up.

I really don't like Russert's act either. But his work habits were at least something the industry paid attention to and was in semi-awe of. And since everyone wants to be a talking head it was actually important to journo insiders to have a guy with some Wow-factor who did get his own show because of his research acumen (remember, he'd basically never been on TV before before getting that gig in '91...he was an NBC assignment producer after he quit being a candidate flack). Now, it's kind of like..."Shit, there's nothing but hacks and hairpieces left...how bad are things going to get now???" More a commentary on how reporting has been rejected than his own virtues or lack of fully applying them. He was just one of the last fraying threads who actually made that kind of preparation drudgery look attractive to his attention whore peers because of how he converted that drudgery into the driver of his celebrity. You kind of do need more Russerts in this age to resonate with the fucking idiots who are getting into the profession looking to never lift a finger, because Bob Woodward's morphed into a talking head attention whore himself and the speak-softly-and-carry-a-big-stick old school investigators like Sy Hersh and Bill Moyers ain't doing 'sexy' work that this crop of idiots even notice anymore (and unfortunately ain't getting any less close to retirement either).
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Dr. Medulla » 18 Jun 2008, 1:01pm

I suppose if we're going to grade on a scale, Russert was pretty good compared to his peers and, almost certainly, whoever will replace him on MtP. And yet, that he did do considerable prep work and gave the appearance of "serious journalist" gives me a mild shudder. That is, it's easier to shrug off the blowhards like Hannity or (very much increasingly) Olbermann or the fluff piece people like Kouric because they're so obvious about what they are. Russert had the appearance of a serious and tough son of a bitch, but he really wasn't, not in any meaningful sense. So it makes him even less, if you know what I mean. I've had a number of friends bemoaning his loss as the last Murrow or whatever, and I just scratch my head.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by Wolter » 18 Jun 2008, 1:04pm

Dr. Medulla wrote: Russert had the appearance of a serious and tough son of a bitch, but he really wasn't, not in any meaningful sense. So it makes him even less, if you know what I mean.
That's my problem with him, in a nutshell. Surviving Russert was supposedly a "baptism by fire" for a public official, but he really wasn't that probing - whenever someone like Rummy or Powell got through an interview unscathed, it tacitly legitimated a lot of policy decisions that were never truly publicly scrutinized.
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Re: The Tim "Greatest Journalist Ever" Russert Memorial Thread

Post by nsc » 06 Jul 2008, 10:17pm

timmyboy was a corporate whore but i do miss his sunday show. the wee tube they've got to fill in: tam broke off. how pathetic was he with the 'in ritalin we trust nonsense' during the anthrax self inflicted scare after 9/11?

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