Russert Coverage Ups and Downs

Posted by: David Kiley on June 16, 2008

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There is no question that the passing of Meet The Press’s Tim Russert on Friday leaves a void in Sunday mornings. But it seemed a tad insensitive for www.politico.com’s Michael Calderone to have a story out on Saturday speculating already on who will replace him. The story seemed to point to two obvious choices—David Gregory and Chris Matthews, with the end-note on the story leaning toward Gregory.

But, the story could have maybe waited until today, at least.

MSNBC, the staff of which was rightfully stunned on Friday, ran loop coverage of Russert remembrances Friday night and into Saturday. At times like these, it’s hard to criticize too much for over doing it. But MSNBC pushed the envelope as far as it would go, and didn’t seem to care if the envelope broke. Friday night, I switched over for a brief time to Fox where I saw a mostly gracious salute to Russert by Fox Circus-Clown-in-residence Sean Hannity. He called on on former GE chairman Jack Welch whom, I did not know, was a kind of mentor to Russert. But where Hannity hopped the rails for me was when he called Russert “a model for all of us in this business.” Oh? What business is that Hannity? To call yourself in the same business as Russert is insulting; Hannity, who a few nights before admitted on air to being a “surrogate” for GOP candidate John McCain (as if we didn’t know that, but it was still stunning to hear him admit it on the air considering his past protests over being in the tank for anyone GOP).

Russert once went on Hannity’s show to promote his book, which goes to show you that anyone will go on anyone’s show to flog a book.

Not surprisingly, the actual Meet The Press broadcast on Sunday contained the best remembrance. Tom Brokaw included in the show some tape of Russert’s most embarrassing moment, when he used a metaphor of “sawing off a limb” with then-Senator Bob Kerrey. Gwen Ifil included her exchange with Russert on the air last year when she challenged people like Russert [and me] who went on Don Imus’s radio show for years even after he made many disparaging and arguably racist comments and jokes about African Americans.

Russert, I suspect, would have haunted them if they hadn’t included a few of his difficult moments along with a catalog of his best stuff.

Brokaw looms large in this year’s election with Russert’s absence. His handling of Russert’s passing, and his recent work on the primary coverage, reminds us that he is the dean of American national TV journalism, especially political coverage.

At a time when the political year is dominated by coverage on MSNBC, CNN and Fox, Russert will be missed precisely because he refused to let himself be cubby-holed into rooting for any candidate. Matthews and Keith Olbermann certainly can’t claim that mantle. It is pretty clear that Fox is pulling for McCain, while MSNBC’s commentariat coverage is so anti-Bush that it’s hard not to argue that it is the Obama channel. CNN lies somewhere in between. But at MSNBC, in addition to NBC, Russert was the best. The only clue to Russert’s politics is the fact that he had worked for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Gov. Mario Cuomo. Since going to NBC, his politics were indiscernible.

Controversial Conn. Senator Joe Lieberman, identifying himself as an independent these days (caucusing as a Democrat, but carrying water for John McCain) ironically put it best on Friday, calling Russert, “The explainer in chief.” Even MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, no fan of Lieberman’s, couldn’t resist separating that apt description of Russert from the pile he had to draw from Friday night.

This year’s election will still be historic. But we sadly lost our best real-time historian to describe it for us.

Reader Comments

Kevin

June 16, 2008 3:25 PM

David,

I have never read any of your work before, so I don't know you too well. I am a big fan of Tim Russert and I am sure he would not want you using his death for you to slam other journalists. I am a little surprised you didn't take a shot at Bill O'Reilly when you talked about Fox News and Sean Hannity. You should ALWAYS lump all of them together when taking malicious cheap shots.

BTW, how is Senator Lieberman controversial? Is he controversial because he doesn't share every far left view that you share?

From Kiley: Well....it's my blog, not Russert's. But your point is taken. Lieberman is controversial because he ran as an independent after his own party wouldn't support him. He is an unwavering supporter of the Iraq war, despite the opposition by most of the party he caucuses with. And, it is a bit controversial that the Democratic vp candidate in 2000 for the Dems is the GOP candidate's staunchest supporter. That's controversial.

Dr. Jim Jackson

June 16, 2008 3:57 PM

Who in the heck is David Kiley? And no matter who (whom) he thinks he is...he couldn't carry Hannity's shoes. From his comments.. he is left of Stalin! CNN is in the middle of nothing...is is worse than MSNBC and doesn't the MS stand for MicroSoft?

From Kiley: a senior correspondent. Hannity is the nost intellectually lazy and dishonest person on the air. I don't care what his politics are. It's his dishonesty and his capacity to carry distortions to the level of lies that I criticize.

Elliott Bevis

June 16, 2008 4:01 PM

If they put Matthews in "the chair" the ratings will... and understandably... go down the toilet.

Dot West

June 16, 2008 4:04 PM

I agree with Sen. Lieberman that Tim Russert was our "explainer in chief". He was so fair in his coverage of all candidates that no one could say for sure that he supported Democrat or Republican. That would not be true of Chris Matthews - he just does not qualify to "explain" to us which candidate is doing or saying what. Chris is too sharp-tongued. Forget Keith Olbermann- enteraining, yes-
unbiased - no. David Gregory could grow into that position. Joe Scarborough - I
don't know if he is basically kind and fair - sharp, yes, but we Americans have grown accustomed to absolute fairness from Tim Russert. That job will be a BIG challege for NBC.

Vnce

June 16, 2008 4:34 PM

Name calling and outright bias doesn't give your commentary depth or personal credibility.

From Kiley: I take shots at Hannity not because he is a right-winger, but because he is the most intellctually lazy water carrier on the air. he has counterparts at Air America as well.

sharon

June 16, 2008 4:45 PM

david gregory is bad enough......... but chris matthews?????
forget it

Bgehret

June 16, 2008 4:58 PM

Hannity might be in the bag for McCain but I never heard him say McCain gives me chills like Chris Matthews did about Obama.......

Emily

June 16, 2008 5:04 PM

He will be sadly missed! There is no
replacement..

Elana

June 16, 2008 5:24 PM

Thank you for this articulate article.
I didn't realize how ubiquitious and important Russert was to Democracy and Journalism, large and small. I feel betrayed that the Gods had to take him now. American Journalism is hanging by a thread and there is no one out there who breaks it down clearly with such sharp and succinct brilliance. I loved watching him; with his twinkly eyes, expressive face, sharp, pointed questions. He was brave and passionate and old school. He fostered and cultivated people to be great and good and to have principals. I miss him terribly and our world will not be the same. I'm just overwhelmed with grief.

kath

June 16, 2008 5:24 PM

You don't think the crowd at MSNBC are "surrogates' for Obama?

From Kiley: I think I made the point that MSNBC was "The Obama Channel."

Paula Walker

June 16, 2008 6:01 PM

I feel like Tim was a member of our family. I listened to him very closely. Such a very smart man and such a loss. My Prayers and thoughts are with his family. May God Bless each one of you.
Paula Walker, Louisiana

Beth

June 16, 2008 6:06 PM

I am so very sad at the passing of one of the most classiest men out there. I feel so much pain for his family. I cannot get over how much I've cried. I lost my parents at the ripe old age of 20, my mother died in Dec and my father in Feb, 2 months apart from one another. I watched Luke Russert this a.m. on the Today show (I too have a son Luke who has made me as proud as Tim and his wife are of their son Luke) and again the flood of tears. I will miss him terribly through the upcoming election months.

God Bless to his family

srm

June 16, 2008 6:40 PM

Could the long flight from Italy the day before contributed in any way to clot formation.

s kapreilian

June 16, 2008 6:45 PM

A GREAT MAN WATCHED HIS PROGRAM MANY TIMES ALWAYS ENJOYED
OUR FAMILY WILL MISS HIM
ENJOYED THE PROGRAM ABOUT BIG RUSS

OUR SYMPHATIES

SK AND FAMILY

Kelly McMullen

June 16, 2008 6:56 PM

I, too, will greatly miss Tim Russert on Sundays. He became just about the only person I would watch and listen to about anything to do with the political scene. He always was honest with his viewers and asked the questions, fairly, that the public wanted to hear the answer to. He never came off as anyone who was above the common man even though he was greater than many in this world. He will be missed very much.

Jenny

June 16, 2008 7:10 PM

I still cant believe it, I feel so sad for his family at home and at work. The age old question is why do the good die young.

sam llewellyn

June 17, 2008 9:03 AM

your final comment...how very true!

leroy-rogers

June 17, 2008 11:10 AM

Russert's shoes will be hard to fill. He was fair and balanced without the quotation marks, as well as filling more shoes than most are asked to fill. Not even counting those of father, husband and son.

Not being a regular consumer of his work, I did not have him on a pedestal, but given the nature of the business he was probably the best they could afford. And given the nature of the world, even harder to find one without more of an edge. Maybe as the comments on Kiley have shown.

On the other hand, maybe just asking questions and letting answers fall flat, or stand in public quandary should suffice. It will be hard to find someone spinless but not spineless. But I wonder what politicians are imagining they will have to face, not knowing what they are in for. Or is it a bigger challenge for MSNBC to fill just one pair of shoes?

Coltrane

June 17, 2008 11:30 AM

I never knew that these many FOX Lovers could read... Stunning!!! I thought they were all as Dumb as Hannity is... Kiley, to even name Hannity & Journalism in the same sentence improves his standing in the American Airwaves by a 1000th % today you threw him a Bone. Nazi News Channel Lovers, to expect to give him credit as anything more than a Puppet of the RNC, Ailes & Murdoch and an all-time Pay for Hire whore of the Smear duJour Campaign of the Far Right is Lunacy!!!

Paul L.

June 17, 2008 12:05 PM

Gwen Ifil or Ray Suarez of PBS are my choices to replace Mr. Russert.

From Kiley: Both interesting choices.

kd

June 17, 2008 6:30 PM

The good do die young -- long live Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes!

BTW, I hear Fox already turned on Russert and is now calling him "liberal."

steve baker

June 18, 2008 5:24 PM

I think they'd be nuts not to pick Gwen Ifil.

GK

June 19, 2008 2:37 PM

Good article about the great Mr.Russert. I watched him for well over ten years and couldn't get enough coverage on him since his passing. I was in absolute awe of the ceremony at the Kennedy center yesterday. So much respect for the man and all of it deserved! I sure will miss him.

Those blokes over at Fox can only DREAM of having such an impact at their deaths.

As much as it's hard to imagine anyone else in Mr.Russert's chair, I like to see Tom Brokaw moderate the show permanently although he may not do so due his age and semi-retirement status. Second choice - David Gregory. Not Chris Matthews, not Katie Couric and not Olbermann. I also like Gwen Ifil and Brian Williams. No matter who it is, he/she will be held to the same high standards that Mr.Russert has set.

I like Kd's comment - 'long live...'.

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