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Abdicate
06-14-2008, 02:23 AM
Amid all the deaths mentioned on the nightly news, why to we select ones such as Russert's, over which to get all gushy and condolence-extending? Why not report it just as one would any other death?

Tim Russert is dead at 58. We extend our sympathies to his family, friends, and fans. Russert never appeared on BhTV, but his stature and influence made him a frequent topic of discussion here. Admittedly, when we talked about him, it was sometimes to criticize him (as in this recent chat between Matthew Yglesias and Jane Hamsher), but he had his fervent defenders, too, such as Conn Carroll (vs. Matt Stoller). He certainly died too soon.

Baltimoron
06-14-2008, 05:04 AM
I share your mixed feelings about Russert's professional legacy. I didn't always enjoy MTP on Sundays as much as I did reading a newspaper, or even bhTV. However, my condolences go to his family.

Russert: The Godfather of Gotcha Is Dead (http://www.radicalcontrapositions.com/left_flank/2008/06/14/russert-the-godfather-of-gotcha-is-dead/)

RIP

Magic Flea
06-14-2008, 02:53 PM
There's no question he was a net positive force in journalism (especially TV journalism). The gotcha critique is not a critique. He would show a politician a quote and then a later quote where he contradicted himself or show him obviously lying and just give him the opportunity to explain it. Either they could or they couldn't. If they looked bad, it was their own fault.

The proper critique of Tim Russert is that he wasn't aggressive enough, and often let smooth pols get away with changing the subject instead of answering the question. However, he played an important role in making important politicians explain themselves and journalism as a profession is worse off now on average. That's true whether you liked to watch him or not. It's not like he doesn't have enormous shoes to fill.

Baltimoron
06-14-2008, 09:24 PM
I'm not knocking Russert's dedication to detail and talent, rather the object of his efforts: TV. It's like Jeff Davis and his older brother devising a more elaborate, perversely democratic form of plantation slavery (sorry, I'm reading Wilentz's The Rise of American Democracy, and antebellum allusions come quickly). Why bother?

Also, the You Tube-ization of American politics, of which Russert is the godfather, or his "prosecutorial" style, is inferior to aggressive debate formats and discussion (like bhTV), and written journalism. It cannot identify trends. It also places the spectator in a submissive position watching an expert, instead of training laypeople to create their own hypotheses and prove them (a problem identified as a failing of science education on a previous diavlog). Finally, it doesn't encourage leadership and offers a fetishistic version of character, because it leads to the misleading idea, that politicians are celebrities, and not administrators. The gotcha style is as much an heir of McCarthy as it is of Russert. It's entertainment without burlesque.

Again, why bother?

bjkeefe
06-14-2008, 10:11 PM
Joseph:

I take all your points, but I would still say that given an imperfect world -- not enough people willing to read newspapers, not enough people willing to so serious analysis of candidates' records and stands on the issues, the tendency of people to form strong impressions based on TV presentations of candidates, and so on -- Russert's style helped somewhat. I'd call what he added by having candidates come on his show a net gain. Without shows like his, everything the average voter would see on TV would be rock star-style speeches, faux-town hall meetings with screened audiences, and softball "get to know the candidate" appearances on chat shows like The View, Ellen, Oprah, et al.

This is not to say that you shouldn't criticize the shortcomings of his approach. Just wanted to point out that I think what he did wasn't all bad.

You're right that aggressive debates and in-depth discussions between candidates would be great, but I would only agree completely with this in a better world. I think we have a real problem in our current environment with the immediate scoring of such events -- an insistence that a winner be declared, a hunger for "You're no Jack Kennedy" moments, a disproportionate weighting based on manner and style rather than the substance of what is said, and so on.

Again, not saying we shouldn't do such things. Just pointing out some drawbacks.

Or maybe, just being an insufferable contrarian.

Baltimoron
06-14-2008, 10:42 PM
No, I agree with Magic Flea's and your opinions, to a point. MTP might very well be the best TV can offer. Yet, it seems human technology is creating new forms of interaction, and TV, particularly network TV is suffering. Do we want to choose which forms come next by evolution, or choice? I would choose bhTV (even Buckley-esque Firing Line shows) and toss MTP's. But, you and Magic Flea would seemingly keep MTPs as a middle ground format, between bhTV and You Tube. The middle ground only holds because of the personalities of a Russert and the guests. That's where I disagree. The issues should be out in front. You Tube focuses on the moment, but it can also record long-form programs. It's more consumer-oriented. MTP is corporate-driven and depends on the staff. Again, it reinforces the idea of a single personality as leader that's not very realistic or beneficial for government.

bjkeefe
06-14-2008, 11:29 PM
Joseph:

Again, I am not happy about the limitations and drawbacks of shows like Russert's. I am just saying that the majority of the population is not going to make any effort to seek out BH.tv-style discussions between candidates. Most people aren't interested in investing energy to learn about candidates and their views. It has to be available while sitting on the couch, holding the remote.

I'd go further. Even if BH.tv were available as a cable TV channel, I still don't think most people would sit through a nuanced discussion of one or a few issues, as much as you and I might like to see this. Many people aren't interested at all, and most of the rest people want short, self-contained packages that have moments of drama and some sort of (apparent) conclusion. "Tell me a story," in other words.

It seems to me, in fact, that MTP represents a big step up from just letting TV ads, short bits on TV "news," and watercooler groupthink be the sole sources, which I suspect is the sum total of information for most people. Better than nothing, or as a next step, in other words.

graz
06-15-2008, 06:26 AM
Better than nothing, or as a next step, in other words.

Brendan:

Are you of a mind that an (un)informed electorate is subject to evolutionary forces? Not evo in an organic sense, but relative to the level of tolerance for
increased sophistication of their media sources? Do you think that MTP leads people to advance toward the next logical step?
If Joseph is arguing for remedial exercises in critical thinking instead of passive viewing, perhaps MTP is an obstacle toward your goal of engagement. What concrete positives can you attribute to MTP, other than their position relative to the lesser evils? I would guess you weren't a regular viewer, and are arguing the opposite side in the hope that some good must have resulted. But are you open to the possibility that the net influence was regressive? It's relative cachet made it highly influential. And the format lent itself to referencing.

Matt Yglesias has an interesting take:http://www2.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2007/0712.yglesias.html
I'll only use the one example to make the point that even if you believe it is better by degree, it might still be an exercise in futility or worse. I know you were discussing singularity and 1000 years hence on another thread. But I bet that you don't hold much hope for seeing an informed and engaged electorate (majority) in your lifetime. Does MTP lead toward the light, or keep people in the dark?

Baltimoron
06-15-2008, 07:15 AM
Thanks for that link, graz. As much as I enjoyed it, I had these foreboding feeling about Russert's successor at MTP. I assume MTP will continue, if for any other reason to milk ratings until November. His successor could be a Russert-wannabe without his "ball" skills. Or, he/she might pull off some sort of sui generis transformation that's an even more sensational ratings machine. Any hint of MTP's plans?

Yglesias' essay also reminded me why I hate talking points exchanges like the recent Scher-Carroll discussion of Iraq. It's like watching little Russert sphincters assisting the opponent-buddy to squeeze out one ripe turd of nuance fit for selling to the bosses or the campaigns for a soundbite. In a good debate such hairsplitting would be worth a supporting argument at best, not the entire exercise.

Yes, bjkeefe is being contrarian, but, so we're all refusing to be Russert turds!

graz
06-15-2008, 02:48 PM
. Any hint of MTP's plans?

The Las Vegas smart money is on Chris Matthews.
Guests should then come prepared with spit guards and low expectations.

bjkeefe
06-15-2008, 03:12 PM
graz:

Good rebuttal.

I don't think shows such as MTP necessarily help the voting population, en masse, to become better at seeking to inform themselves. It may help for some people, but you're right -- to stay with your analogy, shows like this may well represent an evolutionary dead end. Undoubtedly, such shows make some people feel as though they have fully informed themselves, and they will likely make no effort beyond that. Also, the popularity of the show gives TV producers have little incentive to try to come up with anything better.

This part doesn't really undermine my feeling that MTP is better than nothing for that part of the population that isn't going to make any effort to inform itself past turning on the TV. However, your next point is one I really can't argue against: there is a good possibility that that the influence of the show was a net loss. Certainly, its over-reliance on techniques such as juxtaposing contradictory statements made by a candidate lends cachet to "gotcha" questioning. There is an impression created that making a candidate squirm over relative trivialities becomes the be-all and end-all of trying to get them off their talking points. And of course, when the show doesn't have a candidate on, it's just another sounding board for partisan spin and what passes for conventional wisdom inside the Beltway.

You're also right that I don't much watch MTP. Now that they offer it online, I've watched it a few times in the past few months, mostly when they had a candidate on for an interview. I did think Russert did a good job showing Rudy Giuliani to be someone with a lot of dubious associates and activities, with no good way to explain them, and also showed Mitt Romney to be as phony as a three-dollar bill. I also remember one episode where Russert's questions completely derailed the Straight Talk Express. On the other hand, I was predisposed to see these guys his way, so my impressions may not reflect how they came across to others.

So, yeah, as Joseph surmised, I am trying to be a little contrarian for the sake of debate. Still, there is a little nugget of sincerity here -- I still believe that however low the bar might be, Russert/MTP was better than much of what else TV offers for political coverage. Given that I don't expect most Americans ever to do much to educate themselves about whom they're voting for, it at least had that going for it.

So, ideally, yes. I wish for far better than what MTP offered. Realistically, or perhaps cynically, though, I don't expect to see it.

==========

Thanks for the link to the Yglesias piece. I remember reading it before, but it was well worth a second look. Great line:

So Meet the Press thrives, delighting precisely the sort of person who doesn't realize that a hardball is a kind of ball whereas a curveball is a kind of pitch.

bjkeefe
06-15-2008, 03:15 PM
The Las Vegas smart money is on Chris Matthews.

Ugh. I hope not. I don't see Matthews being able to get past his Hardball persona, certainly not during this election season. I really hope they get somebody else.

Magic Flea
06-15-2008, 04:38 PM
Evolutionary dead end? Could it be more obvious that that's wrong? Without talking heads, there would be no blogging heads.

Secondly, anyone can offer critiques around the edges of anything, but Russert was an enormously important figure and our democracy is better for politicians having had to answer his questions on television. He read newspapers and provided a forum for questions raised in newspaper columns to be asked and answered directly. He furthermore exerted a positive force on the rest of TV journalism. Other journalists respected him and aspired to his level of rigor.

Thirdly, he did not aspire to be high-brow. His show was for "ordinary" people (you may have heard him refer to Big Russ), and any small-d democrat must accept that such media provide an important function.

Finally, he was influential nonetheless. More people watch Meet the Press than read the New York Times (or USA Today even), but that includes the world's most important people. I doubt Baltimoron can defend the "fetishistic", "entertainment without burlesque" comments or expound on what negative aspects of YouTube Mr. Russert holds responsibility for. The conversations on his show were important.

AemJeff
06-15-2008, 05:07 PM
The Las Vegas smart money is on Chris Matthews.
Guests should then come prepared with spit guards and low expectations.

I'd put my money on Chuck Todd or David Gregory. Matthews has offended a lot of people, and I'm willing to bet that the network would see him as potentially damaging to the brand. Personally I'd like to see Todd get the job.

graz
06-15-2008, 05:40 PM
Thirdly, he did not aspire to be high-brow. His show was for "ordinary" people (you may have heard him refer to Big Russ), and any small-d democrat must accept that such media provide an important function.

I am not suggesting that high-brow is preferable to "ordinary."
Information should be the means and the end. BHTV might have an audience that skews toward the high end of political literacy, but that doesn't guarantee participation. Participation equals action - voting, community participation, etc...
So how is our democracy better for politicos having answered his tough, informed questions? Sounds good, But what is the net result?
Did his failure to interrogate Cheney further meet your standard of influence?:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-kaus/meet-the-ignoramus-russ_b_29145.html

No follow up here?:
http://thinkprogress.org/2006/09/10/cheney-cites-zarqawi/

More gotcha to no avail:
http://hotlineblog.nationaljournal.com/archives/2006/09/sunday_snapshot_2.html

http://blogs.villagevoice.com/bushbeat/archives/2008/06/remembering_tim.php

graz
06-15-2008, 05:52 PM
I'd put my money on Chuck Todd or David Gregory. Matthews has offended a lot of people, and I'm willing to bet that the network would see him as potentially damaging to the brand. Personally I'd like to see Todd get the job.

I never win in Vegas... what do I know about the "smart money." I agree about the high negatives a blowhard like Matthews would pose. Would that the NBC executives were choosing based on "our" needs as an electorate, rather than Q ratings and brand extension. Fughetaboudit.

Baltimoron
06-15-2008, 10:10 PM
Without talking heads, there would be no blogging heads.

Format-wise, you are right. But, distributionally, MTP was/is part of the corporate network model, which might be at its terminus. Unless Mr. Wright does succeed in scoring a large corporate sponsorship, bhTV is a part of the Internet distribution model, which is sui generis. As I and some others have pleaded, that citizen-based, consumer-driven model is preferable. So, if not one, bhTV should make TV news a dead-end.

Secondly, anyone can offer critiques around the edges of anything, but Russert was an enormously important figure and our democracy is better for politicians having had to answer his questions on television. He read newspapers and provided a forum for questions raised in newspaper columns to be asked and answered directly. He furthermore exerted a positive force on the rest of TV journalism. Other journalists respected him and aspired to his level of rigor.


Actually, this is your best argument, although you almost fetishize the program. What made/makes the program special is, that laypeople, pundits, and pols recognize its influence, not that the format is intrinsically good. As Yglesias argued, the prosecutorial aspect has limited value. I actually preferred the back end of the program when 'heads debated. The problem here again was that the groupings recurred, and so did the camaraderie and inside references. As I do on bhTV, I wonder just how many pundits across the country deserved a shot at that table.

I actually watched the tribute show (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/25171251/print/1/displaymode/1098/) (and it's my habit to watch the online recording on Mondays or Tuesdays before I go to work) today, and I have watched the show off and on (breaks for Army service, a couple stints in ROK when I didn't even own a TV or computer) since the 80s. I have blogged the program. It is a repository of information. However, I was surprised by what Doris Kearns Goodwin (whose long-term perspective I appreciated) said on the tribute show.

I'm Tom Brokaw. There are so many stories that we could tell about Tim, so many moments that shaped and defined him and our nation. But, in this hour that Tim occupied so proudly and did so well, we will focus on the remarkable things that he did right here on MEET THE PRESS, a program that he called a "national treasure," of which he said he was only the temporary custodian. For 17 years, of course, he was so much more than all of that. His great friend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, is with us this morning.

And it seems to me, Doris, that in the future, historians will have a rich archive in the MEET THE PRESS recordings of the people who have passed through these studios--who they were, how they evolved and what they became.

MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No question about that. I mean, think about the 19th century. We had diaries, we had letters. That's what allows historians to re-create those people who lived then. In this broadcast world, what these recordings will show people years from now is not just the questions he asked, not even just the answers he got, but which people were able to acknowledge errors, which people ruffled under his questions, which ones could share a laugh. You'll get the temperament of these people. They're going to come alive. You know, he loved that "Meet the Press Minute" at the end, where the history could come back. And I keep imagining that maybe four or five election cycles from now, when we're in our 80s, we'll be dragged back to a bunch of young journalists and, and they will, they will say to us, "You knew Tim Russert? You were there with him?" And we'll be able to know that we knew this man with this boyish enthusiasm. That's what the records won't show, but we'll know that.

The useful aspect of diaries, speeches, and mountains of letters and newspaper articles, as well as the passage of time, is the humility laypeople adopt towards the past. It's perspectival, full of interpretations. With TV, every story has false legitimacy. TV swallows up alternative viewpoints, that the blogosphere now can counteract. The way laypeople in the 19th century read broadsheets or attended speeches might be a dead-end in itself. Or, radio. The art of letter-writing and diarization is another dead-end. MTP couldn't change TV's unique authoritarian quality. It only broadened the range, but the range is the evil that undermines the sovereign ability of each person to decide for him/herself.

His show was for "ordinary" people (you may have heard him refer to Big Russ), and any small-d democrat must accept that such media provide an important function.

Why do you insult yourself that way. I have to use a word like "layperson", as you use "ordinary", to capture the distance between the guy in the tube and the folks in front of it. Each of us the same ability and right to observe and hypothesize and make judgments and act. There is no caste of experts and followers. Plato observed that laypeople knew a lot about their jobs and what they encountered everyday, but they didn't know about the "Truth". The tradesmen would depict the world like his job, etc. But, there's no philosopher toiling away to know the Truth. It's just disconnected people trying to make a case for their own interpretation. I was an intelligence analyst, and there's no single narrative there either. It's like a Kafka-esque corridor where the world changes every office door and combination of clearances. Not even presidents or NSA officials can bring the little pictures together.

Russert did a good (morally and professionally) job, but the medium is bad. And therefore, his efforts are suspect. bhTV is little d; TV is old and authoritarian. Laypeople, like those in my family with its long generational archives of memory and traditions, observe as well as any pundit. It's the distribution that keeps the pictures incomplete. I hate it when intelligent people bow down before someone, or worse, a thing, because they underestimate their own powers of observation and inference. We're all experts (in a Lutheran sense, all priests), we're all incomplete, and together we represent a piece of God that we will never quite understand. We live in that constraint and we live in a world where leaders risk their own souls to protect us, so why pile on another yoke?

RIP, Tim Russert, but let's not make an institution out of MTP. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, program proposal to program proposal.

Magic Flea
06-15-2008, 10:19 PM
As I say, he's properly criticized for not being tough enough.


So how is our democracy better for politicos having answered his tough, informed questions?

After a question/answer, the public either has the subject on the record about his position, or has it that he has no answer. And did I really have to type that? I don't think the answer to that question could have been more obvious.

Magic Flea
06-15-2008, 10:26 PM
I'm not going to defend TV vs. the internet.

Baltimoron
06-15-2008, 10:40 PM
So, Russert was not so seminal a personality that his good deeds could compensate for (and exceed) the medium he served and legitimated?

AemJeff
06-22-2008, 12:58 PM
I would have lost my money. At least for the next four months, it's Brokaw - at least that's CNN just announced.

look
06-22-2008, 01:16 PM
I would have lost my money. At least for the next four months, it's Brokaw - at least that's CNN just announced.

And the beat goes on.