Friday, June 20, 2008

Favored by Cheney's Handlers

Dr. Chris R. Martin, PhD on his Mediacrit blog provides some important insights into the professional work of Tim Russert:

The part "we all" know -- the trade mark self-referenced "blue-collar origins":

Russert ... was one of the elite Washington beltway gang. As the son of a Buffalo, New York sanitation worker (Russert celebrated his dad “Big Russ” in a book) he was roundly praised for his “blue-collar sensibility.” But it was the mythology of his blue-collar origins that belied the fact that he was truly a Washington insider.

Martin mentions Russert's popularity amongst politicians of both parties, but also cites some quotes from a very telling WaPo article:

Politicians of both parties liked [Tim Russert], because for all of his storied tough questioning, he was a guy who played by the polite rules of Washington, where the worst a liar can do is “misspeak.” Tellingly, Cathie Martin, Dick Cheney’s spokesperson, testified in the 2007 perjury trial of Scooter Libby that when the administration was criticized for overstating the case for war against Iraq, their strategy was to put Cheney on Russert’s show, where they thought they could control the message. “I suggested we put the vice president on Meet the Press, which was a tactic we often used,” she said. “It’s our best format.”

Martin wryly observes:

Being favored by Dick Cheney’s handlers doesn’t sound like a case for the journalism hall of fame, though.

Also very telling are these excerpts from Russert's interview by Bill Moyers for the PBS production "The Selling of the War."

BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable. Someone in the Administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.

TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.

My concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.


The irony here - Moyers has given Russert a chance to defend his (lack of) effort. And then comes up with a "gotcha" moment, they kind of thing Russert was noted for.

TIM RUSSERT: Look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth.

Note the repetition of the blue-collar myth.

BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?

TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and political officials.

BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows.

TIM RUSSERT: No. I mean, they don't want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out sometimes their bosses and other public officials.

BILL MOYERS: What do you make of the fact that of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department?

TIM RUSSERT: It's important that you have an opposition party. That's our system of government.

This is Russert saying the it is the job of the opposition party - the Democrats, obviously, in this case - to provide an opposing point of view. But there WERE Democrats with an opposing point of view - Senator Ted Kennedy, Former Vice President Al Gore, Governor Howard Dean, for examples.

Opposing point of view? What about the TRUTH!!

BILL MOYERS: So, it's not news unless there's somebody…

TIM RUSSERT: No, no, no. I didn't say that. But it's important to have an opposition party, your opposing views.

I'll belabor the point: It's important to have the TRUTH.