The chattering class is praising Tim Russert to the stars today, after the amiable Meet the Press star collapsed and died unexpectedly. I always thought Russert seemed like a nice guy and I'm sure all the kind words are heartfelt. But I have a lot of trouble stomaching all the high praise. Russert was a $5 million a year hack, a central figure of the Beltway elite "political" press who basically shilled for his friends in high places while hiding behind his "blue-collar guy from Buffalo" persona. Serious journalism hardly ever emerged from his show.
Tim Russert: Stop the Inanity is a sharp summation of Tim Russert's unique qualities.
Glenn Greenwald, former civil rights litigator and best-selling author, holds the mainstream media to the fire on a regular basis on his Salon blog. Here are a couple of his Russert-related favorite quotes of 2007:
When I talk to senior government officials on the phone, it's my own policy -- our conversations are confidential. If I want to use anything from that conversation, then I will ask permission
--Tim Russert, under oath at the Lewis Libby trial, citing the textbook function of a government propagandist to explain his role as a "journalist."
I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used. It's our best format," as it allows us to "control the message
--Cheney media aide Cathie Martin, under oath at the Libby trial, making clear how well Russert fulfills his function.
And check this video of Matt Lauer speaking with Russert about Speaker Pelosi's trip to Syria, which Greenwald calls "a two-minute tribute to the fact-free idiocy of our media stars." Notice how Russert simply accepts Lauer's right-wing frame without question.
Here's a fun Digby post from April, 2007.
BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable.
Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.
TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.
What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.
TIM RUSSERT: I-- look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth. Now-
BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?
TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and-- and-- and political officials.
BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows--
TIM RUSSERT: No.
For more Russert goodies, check out the Huffington Post's Russert Watch.