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October 31, 2007


All decent people should read Paul Waldman's blistering takedown of Tim Russert in today's Prospect. It's too good, and too important, to miss. For my part, whenever I see Russert on the teevee, I always feel like I'm watching archival footage from the 70s. The guy just looks anachronistic. And his questions are terrible. These lightning rounds, the "yes or no" demands Russert/Matthews/etc pull -- an honest answer and a monosyllabic answer are related things, but they are not, crucially, the same thing. An honest opinion may be complicated, and even layered. Issues aren't binary. And if Clinton believes that Spitzer's decision to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants is a necessary, if regrettable, stopgap that should only exist in the absence of comprehensive reform, and that highlights the need for comprehensive reform, saying that, rather than saying "yes," is a much more illuminating answer.

October 31, 2007 | Permalink


i agree very much with that article.
...the same thing as what was mentioned about favorite bible verses, was done last night to dennis kucinich about unidentified flying objects.
...tim russert has done one amazing thing, though.
he actually had a "family hour" on his show...i think one holiday morning, with mary matalin and james carville.
(imagine, having christmas breakfast in the presence of four demonesque eyebrows...)
he actually made them look human.

Posted by: jacqueline | Oct 31, 2007 3:28:05 PM

The article is dead-on, of course, about Russert's love of gotcha trivialities. It's nothing that hasn't been obvious since the 1990s.

Hopefully this article is the beginning of a sea change in elite opinion about Tim Russert and DC journalism. I would bet up to ten cents that that happens.

Posted by: Elvis Elvisberg | Oct 31, 2007 3:33:16 PM

I don't know what you're talking about. His questions were incredibly insightful and they strike at the heart of what every voter wants to know. I'm only sorry that we didn't have time for more boy scout pledges and an in-depth (i.e. 10 second) discussion about whether the candidates believed in the Loch Ness Monster.

Posted by: Andrew | Oct 31, 2007 3:38:14 PM


I certainly agree with your take on Russert. But the idea that Clinton's answer was somehow subtle or complicated is a bit much. She's a New Yorker, and we live in the actual world. In that world, Spitzer's action either gets her support or not. She had plenty of time from Russert to explain the nuance of her views; the voters are also entitled to know what the payoff would be, and that could have and should have been expressed clearly. You can say "I support this but only because we are in the middle of a mess" or "I oppose this but I am sympathetic with the governor's tough spot." That is not less nuanced, and indeed is more so. What she offered was a muddle designed to please all (likely pleasing few), and on this Russert was not wrong.

Posted by: Bill | Oct 31, 2007 3:44:17 PM

Russert, Shmussert. Just another clueless TV personality. Most of the Americans don't seem to care enough for the networks to fire them. It's hopeless. 'Nuff said.

Posted by: Gray | Oct 31, 2007 4:28:28 PM

I confess that I totally skipped the debate last night pretty much because Russert was on it.

Posted by: chowchowchow | Oct 31, 2007 4:33:11 PM

This probably isn't that noticable to those who don't follow this issue, but the "reform" she supports won't solve the problem. "Reform" will send a loud message to millions and millions around the world that our immigration laws mean nothing, and they'll respond by trying to come here illegally.

So, even if "reform" were to pass, NY would still have plenty of both new and old illegal aliens. So, hers is a double dodge.

Posted by: TLB | Oct 31, 2007 4:42:52 PM

So, who is going to say 'Oh, shut up' to the Halloween ornament and risk the gasps and horror of the faux-blue-collar Nantucket-summering Village set?

I'll agree with Bill on this: it's not enough for Clinton to say, in essence, 'not my problem'. That's throwing Spitzer under the bus. What she can say is that state governors and state legislators are in a bad position on account of federal failings, and that she supports them having the latitude to do what they think necessary.

Posted by: pseudonymous in nc | Oct 31, 2007 5:02:00 PM

Russert passes for a "tough" interviewer by adopting a confrontational pose rather than asking genuinely challenging questions. Which is why he's a terrible moderator for our presidential debates.

Of course he's a terrible moderator for your debates. He doens't throw softballs. If Hillary, or any of the others, can't handle Russert, how do you think they will do when the rubber meets the road?

Posted by: El Viajero | Oct 31, 2007 5:19:17 PM

In a debate like this each candidate will get not much more than 12-15 minutes of time to talk. What on earth is the justification of wasting any of that time talking about state-level policy? They're running for a federal office. Making it the centerpiece of his immigration question can only be justified as a cheap gotcha trap.

Posted by: djw | Oct 31, 2007 5:25:31 PM

Of course he's a terrible moderator for your debates. He doens't throw softballs. If Hillary, or any of the others, can't handle Russert, how do you think they will do when the rubber meets the road?

It's not the fact that he doesn't throw softballs, it's the fact that the man can't pitch. The batter ends up dodging a few wild pitches, gets a walk and the crowd is left none the wiser about whether or not the batter is actually any good.

Posted by: Andrew | Oct 31, 2007 5:58:43 PM

Russert hates spin and I do to.

Posted by: marklanegan | Oct 31, 2007 7:38:26 PM

The article would have benefited by noting that Dick Cheney's disinformation venue of choice is Tim Russert's Meet the Press because, in the V/P's words, he can "control the message."

During interviews, Russert essentially gives Cheney a pass by failing to follow up on what are clearly well-rehearsed talking points and by showing unusual deference in spoken and body language.

Russert answers such criticism with the "if both sides are attacking me, it means I'm doing my job" but what's needed is a tough interview session with progressive journalists. I like Amy Goodman as the questioner.

Timmah doesn't have the guts to do it.

Posted by: Garuda | Oct 31, 2007 8:16:39 PM

Why pick on Pumpkinhead/Timmah? Because it's so much fun....

Posted by: steelhead | Oct 31, 2007 8:37:19 PM

No discussion of Tim Russert is complete without a reference to Slate's How to beat Tim Russert. A choice quote:

Think of Russert as a sniper whom you're trying to flush out into the open. If you make Russert justify his questions, do it good-naturedly. It pisses him off and destabilizes him. When Russert inventoried Al Sharpton's sordid background on the air in January, Sharpton flummoxed him with this moxie: "I think you've got white candidates with worse backgrounds. …" It's a ridiculous defense, but it worked.
A more lighthearted take on this came from Fred Clark of Slacktivist:
If you're ever elected to office and subsequently caught red-handed in a lie, scandal or high treason, get yourself booked on Russert's "Meet the Press." Then, when he confronts you about it, say this, "I love America, Tim." He will, unfailingly, treat this non-sequitur as a satisfactory answer and -- for the rest of the interview and for the rest of your long, successful career in politics -- your lie/scandal/treason will miraculously be transformed into an "old story" that has been "dealt with."
Tim Russert is the master of the "gotcha" question but a woeful incompetent when it comes to the follow-up.

Posted by: Tyro | Oct 31, 2007 9:57:06 PM

In fairness to Russert, he does have his moments. Back in 2005, there was this choice exchange in the Kaine-Kilgore gubernatorial debate in Virginia:

At the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate in mid-September, moderator and NBC journalist Tim Russert asked whether Kilgore would ban abortion if a new Supreme Court gave him the chance. "That's a hypothetical question," Kilgore responded, adding that he wouldn't answer a hypothetical. Russert then asked if he would sign or veto a tax increase. "I'd veto a tax increase that wasn't approved in a referendum," Kilgore said.

"That's a hypothetical question!" Russert thundered, prompting laughter from the audience.

Posted by: Tyro | Oct 31, 2007 11:45:57 PM

Answers to questions that could bear a yes or no question should begin with a yes, no, or I don't know. But they shouldn't stop there.

Posted by: RW | Nov 1, 2007 2:08:50 AM

Should read "that can bear a yes or no answer"

Posted by: RW | Nov 1, 2007 2:09:50 AM

Well, I will give him 'walking a mile to school backwards in a snowstorm' does something to a man.

Since I am from Buffalo and will work for far less than $5 million per year perhaps NBC should let me host Meet the Press. If they are looking for someone more comfortable in front of a camera they could go with:
Wendie Malick, Christine Baranski, Jesse L. Martin, or maybe go darker with Bill Sadler. My dream studio team would have been Rick James and Vincent Gallo in a coke fueled version of the Beltway Boys.

Terry Gross, Ira Flatow, Tom Toles and Ani DiFranco almost make up for Russert, Wolf Blitzer, Mark Russell and Brian McKnight.

Unfortunately we have no Buffalonians to offset
OJ and John Roberts

Posted by: Buffalo Bob Smith | Nov 1, 2007 4:08:48 AM

"Why pick on Pumpkinhead/Timmah?"
Because it would be unfair to solely pick on Tweety!

Posted by: Gray | Nov 1, 2007 4:08:52 AM

You just knew all the lefties who claim to be so luke warm about Hillary were going to attack Russert.

Hillary blew it, not Russert, although I agree he is a left wing tool.

Hillary's answer still makes no sense, because if the Amnisty Bill had past New York STILL would have been issuing drivers licenses to criminals aliens, pedifile aliens and terrorist aliens because they have no way of doing any search on their backgrounds.

And with each drivers license in New York, you get your motor voter card!

There is absolutely no relationship between the amnesty bill and New Yorks drivers licenses, none. Its made up, another Hillary excuse.

Posted by: Patton | Nov 1, 2007 4:22:35 AM

Hillary's basic excuse here is that illegal aliens will come here and they will break our laws. They will illegally drive on our roads, so let's just hand them licenses.

Now, would you say the same for underage kids. Kids are going to joy ride, 14-15, 16 year old kids are going to take them car out without a license, so let's just issue them licenses, there that fixes the problem.

Or, illegal aliens will buy guns, they need protection, they like to go hunting. So let's issue them gun permits and hunting licenses. Don't you want to know who that illegal alien is shooting in your backyard?

Posted by: Patton | Nov 1, 2007 4:37:19 AM

Illegal aliens need chemicals to work, they work hard, they need explosives to work in quarry mining. construction, etc. etc.

Let's just issue illegal aliens licenses to posses and transport controlled chemicals and explosives. There going to do it anyway.

Posted by: Patton | Nov 1, 2007 4:39:19 AM

I think it's telling that Russert finds the format from the 1960s gameshow Password appropriate for presidential debates but not the format from 1960s Meet the Press. In Russert's world light banter with celebrity candidates is somehow more revealing than detailed positions on policy from statesmen. He's always been more Allen Ludden than Lawrence Spivak.

Too bad Russert isn't likeable like Allen Ludden.

OT: History of 'The Lighting Round' (via Wikipedia) The Lightning Round was among the first bonus rounds on a television game (along with the phrase game on the original Beat the Clock). On the ABC version from 1971 to 1974, immediately after completing the Lightning Round, the player wagered any amount of his/her winnings on his/her celebrity partner's ability to guess a "Betting Word" within 15 seconds.

Posted by: joejoejoe | Nov 1, 2007 7:14:00 AM

We could probably lend you Jeremy Paxman for a couple of weeks a year, if you like. (At less than $5 million, too.)

Posted by: ajay | Nov 1, 2007 7:16:24 AM

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