By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

Tim Russert’s death does not bode well for the future of television news. Though he was sometimes criticized for being too much of an insider, and for being tougher on liberals than on conservatives, Russert was smart and serious. He had a rare talent for communicating his love and knowledge of politics. And he was, by all accounts, a thoroughly decent human being.

Will NBC executives take advantage of this tragedy to go younger, glitzier and cheaper? That is not the legacy Russert would want or deserves.

Bill Shields of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) interviews several of us from “Beat the Press” here. The actual “Beat the Press” discussion should go up here sometime over the weekend. I’ve also written a column on Russert for the Guardian, which should be available here in a little bit.

Saturday morning update: My Guardian piece is now online.

Photo (cc) by Joseph Hallett and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Not in Middleborough


Reason #11


  1. Rick

    Tim Russert was closest thing we had to a non partisan in the news media. I think he was left of center but he was tough on to both sides. He will be missed but I cringe at the Beatification that no doubt will follow from the mainstream media,as they seem to do with media personalities and pols.I hope he’s in heaven now having a beer with Tip and the Gipper.Eternal rest, grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

  2. Anonymous

    Dan, I share your concerns about the future of NBC’s news division in the wake of Tim’s passing. This morning on the Today show mention was made of the recent budget cuts at the Washington bureau, and it was said that if not for Tim the cuts would probably have been deeper. Will the next DC bureau chief at NBC have the same clout with upper management as Tim? Not on your life. In fact, rumors are swirling that NBC is planning to sell all of its TV outlets except for the core New York, Chicago and Los Angeles stations. Under this scenario WRC-TV, where the NBC Washington bureau is based, would be one of the stations on the block.One small correction to your Guardian column: Microsoft no longer co-owns the MSNBC cable channel, but remains a Microsoft joint venture with NBC.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Anon: 10:17: Nothing but Wikipedia handy at the moment, but I thought Microsoft had sold much — though not all — of its share of MSNBC.

  4. Anonymous

    Rick, Olbermann was in full, stentorian “Jimmy Myers” mode late last night on MSNBC. Even for him, it was over the top. I’m pretty sure I could faintly hear a voice from the heavens whispering “STFU!”.

  5. Anonymous

    Tim had a moment of truth in the pre-Iraq period. He said and did nothing. Cheney lied to him*, and I think he knew it. He’s being hailed as the ‘journalist for our time.’ But would a Morrow, Sevaried, Cronkite, have let themselves be set up by the administration?*Moyers confronted him, and he played dumb.

  6. Sean Roche

    Tim Russert’s death is sad for his family and friends. And, it is always awful when someone dies as young as Russert.But, Russert’s influence on television coverage of politics, government, and international affairs has been nothing but malign. It does seem like he was a genuinely nice person, but I, for one, won’t miss the gotcha-focused interviews and debate moderation.

  7. Anonymous

    OK. I will serve the role of skunk at the picnic. It’s always amazing how death — and, yes, this one is shocking for its sudden, premature nature and the outsize personality of its victim — has such transformative powers. Perhaps Mr. Russert possessed in life some of the virtues now claimed for him in death. But he also embodied so much of what is deplorable in the mainstream media.He blustered in order to intimidate others, protect himself from criticism, and forgo systematic news analysis.He refused to answer any penetrating questions himself, even though he insisted that others answer all of his. This enabled him, for example, to rely on and publicize illegally leaked grand jury testimony (that’s a redundancy, by the way) from Ken Starr and his minions without owning up when pressed. And there is no need to comment further on his pathetic performance during the Valerie Plame fiasco.He was representative of the old adage that those with the sharpest tongues often have the thinnest skins. Thus, he hounded anyone with the temerity to criticize his wife’s often less than stellar work for Vanity Fair. And he had the nerve to write a complaining letter to The New York Times Magazine last year, whining that the interview had been unfairly edited to his detriment!He enabled some of the most vicious and ultimately tragic lies in this country’s history from the likes of Dick Cheney. These cost a lot more lives and who knows what else, and will be chronicled long after the memory of Mr. Russert fades.Frankly, he was overrated in life and is being wrongly apotheosized in death. Why can’t we just say that he was a competent journalist with a technique and personality that drew attention, in spite of his deep flaws and egregious self-absorption? Why can’t we agree that his death is sad on a personal level, but that he was no giant? Or must we conclude that the media always comes to praise its own, not to bury them?

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Sean: The problem is that it’s almost certain he’ll be replaced by someone worse. Russert had many good qualities as an interviewer and some bad ones. But my choices to replace him — Gwen Ifill and Aaron Brown come to mind — aren’t even going to be considered. How would you like to see David Gregory slide into that seat? Could happen.Your critique reminds me of the criticism that Ted Koppel received when he left “Nightline.” Like the program now?

  9. Anonymous

    Dan, Surprised Gwen Ifill popped up as one of your choices. This from the Incomprable one back in 2003:”But for the record, things were even worse when Rice was introduced. Here were the good doctor’s comments:RICE: Thank you very much. I’d like to thank Gwen for that wonderful introduction. And even if you aren’t getting invited, I can tell you that she is, in fact, an excellent cook. I’ve been able to partake of that since I’ve been in Washington.So Ifill provides home cooking off the air, too! Can anyone offer a clearer picture of our deeply compromised press corps culture?”I have to say that’s one of the things that immediately popped out as the memorializing of Russert began–everyone started name-dropping all the big politicians he hung out with (Ted Kennedy included), how he took his son to the WH to meet ballplayers with Bush, etc. On what journalistic planet is that acceptable? They should have been be running the other way when they saw him at the supermarket. But not big Tim. And not Gwen Ifil. I guess everyone has to be polite at this point, but the guy was not the journalist everyone seems to think he was.

  10. Anonymous

    Anon 3:25, you may be right, but Russert was the only big-time Washington journalist to appear on the Moyers program you reference. Many others were invited but declined. Also, I think Dan is right that David Gregory is the leading candidate from NBC’s perspective. They really have no one else internally.

  11. O-FISH-L

    Tim Russert’s death will not be in vain if it causes the mainstream media to pause and realize that for millions in the middle and on the right, a known Democrat operative (Russert) was viewed as the last non-partisan in the MSM. That just goes to show how far left the remainder of the media is perceived, when an ex-aide to Moynahan and Cuomo is looked to as a beacon of neutrality. Dan, it’s not just NBC that’s in trouble.

  12. Anonymous

    Dan wants a Liberal to replace Russert.What a surprise.

  13. Anonymous

    anon 5:00 – Your other points are fair enough, but this line just came out of left field:”he had the nerve to write a complaining letter to The New York Times Magazine last year, whining that the interview had been unfairly edited to his detriment!”You can’t possibly have been living under large enough a rock to be ignorant of l’affaire Solomon. Criticize his style, by all means, but no need to pile on.

  14. Rick in Duxbury

    Ironically, today’s Globe includes a piece on Dick Flavin’s upcoming one man play, “Tip”. O’Neill observed the “6 O’Clock Rule” with Reagan. They were both the better for it, (as was the country, IMHO.) Say what you will about him, Russert knew the difference between debate and rhetoric. And if anyone has a problem with people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, you may want to find a different blog to hang out at. In these parts, what you see is what you get. (Happy Father’s Day, DK!)

  15. Anonymous

    Not to speak ill of Russert but I just didn’t find his brand of journalism “trail-blazing.” He confronted his guests with MSM reports contradicting officials talking points. IMO, that’s not good journalism. That’s research. And government officials knew how to work Russert. He couldn’t get them to unspin or get them to move away from cokkie cutter talking points.Who can forget the time he explained his failure to verify the Bush administration’s prewar claims with other government officials by lamenting, “I wish my phone had rung.”I didn’t really care for his moderation of the debates.”Dennis… have you seen a UFO” ring a bell? How about the time he pressed Obama about Louis Farrakhan? There was a reason government officials kept going back to Meet the Press (Cheney anyone?). They knew he wouldn’t press them and they could get away with their cookie-cutter talking points. I saw that a lot on MTP. To his credit he did allow some voices of dissent on his show, like Nader and Feingold. But not often. Then there was his shameless defense for Don Imus. Nuff said. For more on Russert click here.Look, my heart goes out to his colleagues and family. I really mean it. But we’re kidding ourselves that Russert exemplified a tough, no holds barred style of journalism. Personally, he is not the kind of journalist I want to aspire to. My idea of good journalism comes from the likes of Amy Goodman, I.F. Stone, Seymour Hersh, Helen Thomas, Jeremy Scahill, Upton Sinclair, Mohammed Omer, Dahr Jamail, and Robert Fisk, my personal favorite. They hold/held officials feet to the fire. Russert cared more about his access.

  16. Anonymous

    5:14,So much for rhetoric vs. debate. You seem disappointed in most people born since the Hoover administration.(Upton Freakin’ Sinclair?) Then you link to David Brock’s website? Sure glad you didn’t want to “speak ill of Russert” and your “…heart goes out to his colleagues and family. I really mean it.” Your comments would have been just as cogent AFTER the corpse assumed room temperature. Regardless of “the kind of journalist (you) want to aspire to” (sic), I would recommend a healthy dose of humanity. Those humans do most of the reading, I’m told.

  17. Anonymous

    I don’t think the link to Brock’s site speaks ill of Russert. I do think it raises concerns about his journalistic practices. It’s not consistent with all the things being said about him in the media. I sure hope the MSM treats Goodman, Fisk, Hersh, Omer and others with the same significance as they are with Russert. Personally, I don’t think there’s a necessary time to discuss Russert’s journalism. We certainly didn’t stop criticizing Reagan and Ford after their deaths, did we? I think it’s fair to to look at and critically analyze Russert’s journalism right now. I think it’s perfectly appropriate.

  18. Anonymous

    Comparing a TV journalist with presidential administrations is, for any number of reasons, bizarre in the extreme, as is claiming civility while acting in an uncivil manner toward a recently deceased person. Ironically, Russert strived at being a centrist. Fat lot of good it has done him with wack jobs on both fringes.

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