By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Strangely enough, during his prolonged liturgy for Russert on Friday afternoon, Bishop Blitzer — chummily reminiscing with former general Colin Powell — uncritically noted the same tendency by Russert. Tim always asked “the tough questions,” proclaimed Bishop Blitzer. And then he added, admiringly: “But there was always the soft landing.” Ah yes, “the soft landing,” Powell thoughtfully concurred.
Indeed, without unfailingly pulling that last punch, Russert knew very well that he would risk excommunication from the Inner Sanctum of the Beltway. A harder landing for his guests could dry up that most cherished of press commodities: access and kinship with the powerful. That’s how Russert began his career, as a shrewd, smart political operative — a role he never really outgrew. Till the end, his temperament, his disposition and ambition positioned him to be a much, much better source than an actual reporter. When I go, I also want oodles of uncritical praise — but not from the subjects of my reporting.
BACK ON CNN, after three straight hours of listening to Blitzer’s droning prayer for the dead, I could stand no more. The desert I heard on the air seemed infinitely more vapid than the one I was driving through. Nor was there any relief on MSNBC, nor on NBC — Russert’s home congregation — as hour after hour after hour was twittered away on what had become the non-news of his passing.
It might be obvious, but here goes: At a time in history when broadcast journalism students are lectured on how they’ll have only a minute and 40 seconds rather than 2:20 to tell an important national story, how can anyone justify the chunks of “news” airtime devoted to Russert?
You had to wonder just what was in those cynical little heads of the CNN and MSNBC execs in all of their feigned piety. Did they really believe that all those average, beer-swilling Americans whom Russert presumably loved (as we were told fifteen hundred times this past week) really wanted to stay glued for hour upon hour to hear the same hollow orations and testimonials over the death of an elite, remote talking head?
I don’t think so. The inexplicable amount of airtime devoted to Russert’s death — which continued into this week, with NBC doing a live broadcast of his private memorial service on Wednesday — is most certainly charged with a potent and perhaps unwitting dose of self-pity. In the sudden death of Tim Russert, his employers and colleagues no doubt caught a passing glimpse of their own mortality. Not as individuals but as institutions. For Russert, it was cholesterol. For MSNBC and CNN, it will be YouTube. What else can explain such prolonged, arrogant self-obsession and narcissism?
Looks like Andy Warhol — who will leave a much more lasting mark on the world than Russert — was dead wrong when he mumbled that line about everyone eventually getting 15 minutes of fame. Warhol departed the earth in 1987, just as cable-TV news was maturing. He couldn’t have had any idea that a mere two decades later, in that bottomless hole created by the continuous news cycle, 15 minutes wasn’t anything at all. We could now go for hours and hours and hours — even days and days — talking about so little while blithely and simultaneously ignoring so much else.