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November 12, 2007

Russert's Gotta Getcha

Matt's takedown of Tim Russert's "tough," which is to say, trivial, questioning, is well worth a read. Russert's obsession with getting people to say things that are embarrassing rather than illuminating is enormously trivializing to politics, and all the more pernicious because his program is what passes for "serious" discussion in Washington. He's not the laggard, he's the model.

And so his attitude spreads. If you watch Hardball, you get the Chris Matthews' selling point, which is that he'll personally rip a politician's throat out if they try and spin you. It's all part and parcel of this contempt for politicians and desire to expose them not for being uninformed, gripped by crazed and wrong ideas, but for being politician-y. For engaging in the sort of spin and doubletalk and evasions that they've adopted in order to, well, survive Chris Matthews and Tim Russert. You can see it in the debate Russert just moderated, where the big story out of it was that Hillary was a bit clumsy in finessing an answer, not that Hillary (or anyone else) offered the wrong answer.

One could imagine a gotcha journalism that was actually very important. Jeff Stein engaged in it when he began asking politicians about the difference between a Sunni and Shiite, and which sect Osama bin Laden identified, and why it all mattered. Those questions probe the familiarity of pols with the dynamics critical for actual policy making. By contrast, Tim Russert's famous gotcha of Howard Dean -- "How many men and women do we now have on active duty?" -- was actually meaningless. If Dean had known the precise answer, it would have told you literally nothing about his plans for the military, his attitude towards national security, his plans for Iraq. It was simply a data point Russert could tag Dean for not knowing, and that could then be replayed on other shows, thus underscoring Russert's reputation for toughness. But that's the point, right?

November 12, 2007 in Media | Permalink


Don't forget Cheney's opinion of Rusty -- "Can control the message."

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 | Nov 12, 2007 11:49:04 AM

People hate politicians for good reason. For the same reasons, in fact, you outlined below in the 'policies vs politics' post. Politicians lie, and they convince themselves that they lie for our own good when they really just lie to 'win'. Politicians don't believe in Democracy, they believe in contests of obfuscation. They do not care if the will of the public gets done, they only care about throwing them enough scraps so as to not get their throats cut by the angry mob.

People like Tim Russert do indeed trivialize politics. But they do not do so to anywhere near the same degree as the politicians themselves do.

Posted by: soullite | Nov 12, 2007 11:52:14 AM

Dick Cheney owns Tim Russert!!!

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Nov 12, 2007 11:58:42 AM

Russert is a hole in the air.

Posted by: ATS | Nov 12, 2007 12:23:59 PM

well, at least one guy didn't see Matt's post on Russert in such a positive light.


Posted by: roberto | Nov 12, 2007 12:48:59 PM

Every so often, Chris Matthews adopts a posture towards an interviewee that is much closer to a form of "tough questioning" that would actually benefit society. Matthews will once in a while zero in on a particular, fundamental question that the person just really has no answer to.

I remember in the run-up to the war, Matthews had somebody on who was advocating for the invasion, and Matthews asked him: "What act of war has Iraq committed against the United States?" And he kept asking it, and the guy had no answer for it. It was such a simple question, but such an important one, and not a single Iraq hawk had even the rudiments of an answer to it.

He doesn't do this nearly enough, of course, but he probably does it more often than Russert. (This template can of course be misused: I also remember Matthews, in the middle of the Elian Gonzales incident (remember that nonsense?), asking a guest something like, "Will this kid be free in Cuba?")

Posted by: Jason C. | Nov 12, 2007 1:30:05 PM

As Timmeh is controlled by Dick Cheney he is of no consequence to any serious person and therefore should be treated with nothing but the utmost contempt.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Nov 12, 2007 1:43:48 PM

As Timmeh is controlled by Dick Cheney...

OK, the bullshit detector just went off the scale. Got anything to back up this assertion there, Davy?

Posted by: El viajero | Nov 12, 2007 1:56:12 PM

People like Tim Russert do indeed trivialize politics. But they do not do so to anywhere near the same degree as the politicians themselves do.

Posted by: soullite
So what? The job of the news media is to report & comment on the news & make it clear. Very few commentators & journalists do that; most just add to the confusion. It is the politician's job to score points with the voter, not the commentator's.

Saying the politicians are worse is avoiding the issue entirely, which is exactly what our media is so fond of doing.

Posted by: bob in fla | Nov 12, 2007 4:43:41 PM

Ezra, Ezra;

You're just another Matt and Kevin.

This post is a another perfect illustration of the inability of another "liberal" writer to say that Russert and Matthews are tough ONLY with Dem candidates. Read some Howler archives (and today's column) and grow some balls. Or are you becoming Norah O’Donnellized?


America will elect Rudy if people don't speak up and get the fools to stop treating Dems like they're 2nd class.

Posted by: gregg | Nov 12, 2007 6:43:01 PM

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