The Plank

Tim Russert Just Wasn't Made For These Times


For all the blogosphere's bile directed toward Tim Russert, I didn't think it would ever take much of a toll on him or his reputation: after all, no one dies from a thousand paper cuts. Which is why, perhaps, one of Russert's leading blogger critics, Matt Yglesias, has expanded his critique into a full-fledged article for The Washington Monthly--an article that's pretty devastating:

[T]he 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.

I know Russert will be with us through the '08 presidential race and probably beyond, but it really does seem like his whole schtick has become outdated. Mark Halperin has already decried the meta nature of political reportage. How long until Russert is forced to do the same?

--Jason Zengerle

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