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

Beating the press

I’m on “Beat the Press” this week. One subject I know we’ll be talking about is whether the media — and especially NBC and MSNBC — made too much of Tim Russert’s death. The show will be broadcast later today, at 7 p.m., on WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

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  1. Ari Herzog

    I look forward to watching it, Dan.On the media and Russert, the man touched many people and the reporting was dead-on accurate.What got me was the journalism overkill, especially in Massachusetts, when Ted Kennedy was admitted into MGH for a brain tumor.Here is an excerpt from my blog when the news broke:All that is needed are a few paragraphs that summarize why he was admitted to the hospital (had a seizure), the result (the tumor), and that he was discharged. Intersperse the story with some quotes from doctors and Joe Shmo citizens, sure.But the way the story is written, going on and on about what-if scenarios involving to-be diagnoses, successor elections, political successes and tragedies in the Kennedy family, and that President Bush is praying for a speedy recovery… huh?So, no, I didn’t think the media went overboard with Russert’s death.

  2. alkali

    The coverage seemed OK to me, keeping in mind that (i) Russert does seem to have been genuinely beloved by his colleagues; (ii) it was a slow news weekend anyway; (iii) no one was forced to watch hours and hours of MSNBC coverage (and, in the absence of a primary or some other unfolding-in-real-time news event, why would you ever watch hours and hours of MSNBC? That’s not what it’s for); and (iv) criticizing another’s expression of grief is almost always unseemly.That said, the one thing that did strike me as a bit off was the blitz of Friday night coverage involving many of Russert’s colleagues. At that point, Russert had died literally just a couple of hours ago, and already there was blanket coverage by his co-workers. I assume that there was some sort of “we’re news people, the show must go on, that’s what Tim would have done” kind of camaraderie at work, but it struck me as odd. If one of my closest colleagues and friends suddenly died, I would not want to be on national television talking about it at length 3 hours later.

  3. Anonymous

    EB3 here,Tim Russert died?

  4. Anonymous

    Finally, on Slate, someone is fleshing out the incredible “source” relationship Russert and Robert Novak had, according to Novak. Rove shopped for a story to out Valerie Plame. Russert turned down the opportunity but also FAILED to report that the adminstration was trying to break the law by outing a CIA agent. And Novak took the bait, outed Plame and did the administration’s bidding. Russert did its bidding by NOT blowing the whistle on this criminal behavior. Russert wasn’t the god he has been made out to be. His sudden death was a shock, but he wasn’t a saint. He was a hack who bullied those he wanted to bully and went light on those he liked, all for entertainment value.

  5. Steve Stein

    Hmm. You guys spent half your show on it last week, and rightfully so (IMHO). Russert was a central figure in the MSM and his death was sudden and too soon. So the attention was expected and not excessive.Why, though, are you going to spend even MORE time on it this week? Why not take up the topic you were going to spend that 15 minutes on last week ? (Was that time going to go to Mayhill Fowler? That’s an interesting media topic that didn’t get enough discussion.)

  6. Tobe

    Dan, I hope you and the panel on BTP all wear the appropriate black, since the month of shiva for Russert is still in progress. I think the media showed its self-absorption in the overkill coverage. Yes Russert was a significant figure in journalism. No he didn’t deserve wall-to-wall week long coverage.

  7. Anonymous

    Tim Russert was the ultimate political insider. And that was both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. But in terms of the coverage of his death, I found it to actually be cathartic. As a viewer, I felt I knew the guy — because Russert was so personable. And he really was my favorite for political analysis. To lose him during the most important election in generations just seemed to exacerbate the sense of loss. So I was one of those people who stayed up way past my bedtime watching the replay of his full memorial service the other night. And I sat in front of the tube for hours on the day of his death. I suppose the networks gave me what I wanted.

  8. Peter Porcupine

    And of course, Russert is dead now and cannot affirm or refute any of this, which would seem to be at at odds with his Grand Jury testimony!DK – too much. Consider – Cyd Charisse died this week, and was as great a force in dance as Russert was in journalism – but barely a blip. The impression left, rightly or wrongly, is that journalists care more about the passing of one of their own, and have the means to enforce that we all pay what they deem to be proper attention.

  9. Anonymous

    On a completely gut level, I was shocked at the amount of coverage given to Tim Russert’s death. I’m with PP on this one. Interesting guy who has been elevated to Cronkite status by his premature passing.Bob in Peabody

  10. Bill

    I agree with Tobe. Just another example of the media’s self-absorbtion. This whole week, as the Russert coverage continued on Nightly News, I kept thinking of Albert Brooks’ line from “Broadcast News,” “Let us never forget that we’re the real story here.” Indeed.

  11. Anonymous

    Tim Russert was the most famous Baby Boomer to die, to date, I believe. I speculate that we might get a lot of coverage if Tom Hanks dies unexpectedly (I’m not wishing for that to occur).

  12. Larz

    When they go into wall-to-wall mode, I always wonder what happened elsewhere. I realize that’s what editors or news directors do — choose stories. But I wonder how they justify a half-hour news program on an ordinary night if they can dump the entire contents when a big story comes along.The coverage given to Russert’s death is symptomatic of what’s wrong with much of the mainstream coverage: personality over substance. How ironic that they’d go overboard on the personality who provided their strongest political coverage.— Larz

  13. o-fish-l

    Even with the excessive Russert coverage, I was left asking the following questions about “Big Russ”, the father we got to know through Tim’s book:1) Was he able to attend the wake and funeral? I saw a lot of Luke, but only file tape of Big Russ which leaves me wondering about his health.2) I understand Big Russ was moved to a nursing home, but did I hear correctly (only heard it once) that the facility is in Boston?Any info on the above would be appreciated. A google search returns page after page about the book, not much current news.

  14. Anonymous

    They did make far too much of his death, from the ‘continuing coverage’ many stations used, to the “Tim Russert 1950 – 2008” picture used. He was a premier newsman of his time, but not that important to most of us. The media was using the airwaves for their own personal mourning and catharsis. It should have been done in private, amongst themselves, in their newsrooms, offices, homes, and gathering places, and leave us out. They applied their personal feelings inappropriately to the rest of us.

  15. Anonymous

    Here’s your answer O-fish, if you haven’t found out already. Big Russ is not in good health and did not go to DC.

  16. o-fish-l

    Thanks, Anon 9:49.

  17. Stella

    Russert’s death was a significant financial blow to GE, who has been quietly shopping NBC-Universal for quite a while. His loss to a feeble NBC news is of a magnitude.Apparently he was a man worth knowing and all premature deaths to active and involved persons is regrettable.

  18. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    He wasn’t that good. He was a prime example of journalists who engage in an unholy alliance with the people they cover to produce a never-ending circle of self-fulfilling prophecies while trading predictable questions about predictable subject.Quick, name one story this stellar journalist broke that involved reporting rather than words whispered in what the whisperer hoped would be a sympathetic ear.That’s what I thought.

  19. Steve

    OK, I just watched this edition of “Beat the Press” and you spent 10 minutes discussing Obama reversing his “pledge” (that he never made) to accept public financing for the 2008 general election.But in all the coverage of Obama’s decision, no one (at least no one on the teevee) has made a peep about McCain’s public financing promise for the primaries, which he violates and continues to violate. McCain is breaking the law even now, yet no one in the press has mentioned it at all.Why is that?

  20. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Can I at least have a little love for making both of those points? It was lonely enough as it was!

  21. Anonymous

    You’re welcome O-Fish.

  22. Steve

    Sorry, Dan. Props to you! (But I gotta admit, it was a long time into that segment before you got your turn.)And indeed, you were on the teevee. I saw it myself.But my question still stands – why isn’t this a part of all the OTHER coverage of the issue?

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