Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Russert: what a waste of journalistic space

I didn't see the debate last night from the fine "journalists" from NBC. But I've seen the whole Farahkhan exchange between Russert and Obama. Classic Russert; he wanted Obama to denounce Farahkhan's comments about Jews, and he did. Then Russert went into the whole crazy train of logic and asked if Obama "rejects" Farahkhan. What the hell does "denounce" mean?

Anyway, I've watched enough Press the Meat to know Russert's shtick. He doesn't care about the dissemination of accurate facts or information. He doesn't care about the public good. He doesn't care about issues of policy or differences of substance between candidates. Instead, he's a gotcha journalist. Gotcha journalism has its place; it's an essential tool in any journalist's toolkit. But there is more to journalism than just trying to get a candidate to squirm about something you said ten years ago that contradicts something you said last week. Not that changes in position aren't important, but there has to be more than that.

Russert does this just to make news. He doesn't give a rat's ass about substance. Instead, his entire MO is gotcha. Yglesias covered this really well for the Washington Monthly a few months back. A snipet:

Actually, the balls Russert favors may be hard, but the pitches he throws aren't curveballs, which go someplace useful. They're sillyballs, which go somewhere pointless. Russert has created a strike zone of his own where toughness meets irrelevance. John McCain entered the zone last May, when he went on the show and repeatedly asserted that the Bush tax cuts had increased the federal government's revenue. Hearing this, a tough but conscientious journalist might have pointed out that this is demonstrably false. Russert, however, reached for a trusty hardball and sent it sailing. McCain, he pointed out, was now supporting extending the very same Bush tax cuts that he had once opposed.

Well, yes, but this was a bit like asking someone who says the world is flat why he used to say the earth was round. The contradiction Russert pointed out was real—but hardly central. In fact, if tax cuts actually had increased revenues, then McCain's change of heart would have been perfectly logical. The real problem was that McCain's theory of the relationship between tax rates and revenue wasn't true. In Russertland, though, as long as you acknowledge the contradiction, the questioner is satisfied. "You say the world is flat, but just three years ago you said it was round." "You know, Tim, yes, I used to say the world was round, but times change, and that's why I support the Bush administration's bill to construct a restraining wall to prevent ships from sailing over the edge of the sea." And so on.

The whole thing is worth a read.

Digby asks what we can do about Russert. If I feel more inspired later today than I am at 7:30 in the morning, I try to discus this later.

1 comment:

PGL said...

You have Russert down. I used to love Meet the Press. But then Russert became the host. Ahem!