Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tim Russert and the decay of the American media
By David North and David Walsh
16 June 2008


One has only to consider certain of the events that occurred “on his watch”: the Clinton impeachment, the stolen 2000 election, September 11, the Iraq war and its aftermath. None of these events evoked from Russert a critical examination of the claims of the state and its representatives.

In each case, Russert’s essential role was to bolster the establishment and lull the population to sleep. His role in the Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, an episode that did a great deal for his career, was particularly filthy. In the first days of the crisis, Russert breathlessly asserted that if the allegations about Clinton’s sexual impropriety were true, the president would have to resign. “Whether it will come to that,” Russert continued, “I don’t know, and I don’t think it’s right or fair to be in the speculation game. But I do not underestimate anything happening at this point. The next 48 to 72 hours are critical.” The population largely rejected the media campaign.

For example, Russert asked Cheney: “What do you think is the most important rationale for going to war with Iraq?” The vice president replied, “Well, I think I’ve just given it, Tim, in terms of the combination of his development and use of chemical weapons, his development of biological weapons, his pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Russert responded: “And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree?”

Cheney: “I disagree, yes. And you’ll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community disagree. ... And I think if you look at the track record of the International Atomic Energy Agency and this kind of issue, especially where Iraq’s concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what it was Saddam Hussein was doing. I don’t have any reason to believe they’re any more valid this time than they’ve been in the past.” That matter being settled, Russert was on to the next question.

It is revealing, in its own way, that Russert’s celebrity credentials were burnished with a bestseller about his father, “Big Russ.” It is worth recalling that William Shirer—the old CBS hand who worked with Edward R. Murrow in the 1930s and 1940s—established his reputation with Berlin Diary, his account of Germany in the first years of the Nazi regime. He later went on to write (after he had been witch-hunted out of the broadcast media) The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Other reporters from that era, such as Eric Sevareid, left behind memoirs that contained interesting social commentary.

Russert’s Big Russ, on the other hand, was nothing but a saccharine account of an America were “traditional” values were honored, where “men were men,” etc. In other words, a fictionalized America, conceived in the mind of a conformist. The book is part of a marketable genre, which includes Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a self-deluding slap-on-the-back account of life in post-war America. It was fitting, in its own way, that Brokaw broke the news of Russert’s death...[Open in new window]


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