Tim Russert Dies at 58

June 14, 2008

Tim Russert died today of a heart attack while doing a voiceover.

To go along with its death-of-a-newsman coverage, the AP ran a series of reactions to the death of Tim Russert. All of these would be admirable if not given by many who probably wished Russert dead long before the unexpected took its course.

I apologize in advance to his family and friends, but he wasn’t the greatest journalist in the world or American history. I don’t say that in ironic understatement, the way you would say the Milwaukee Brewers aren’t necessarily the most successful of baseball clubs. I say it because of the deep insult and dishonor that has been done by those pretending to honor and laud the man.

Let’s go punch-for-punch from the AP reaction-piece:

“I think I can invoke personal privilege to say that this news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice. He’ll be missed as he was loved – greatly.” – Tom Brokaw, NBCNews anchor emeritus.

No quarrel here. A colleague saluting the fallen. I don’t know their personal history and it could be lip service, but I have a congenital difficulty disbelieving anything that comes out of Brokaw’s mouth.

“We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family and the news world has lost one of its finest. The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated.” – NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker.

Bullshit. If the “NBC Universal family” name-drop wasn’t proof enough, the final sentence should clue you in that Zucker viewed the loss of Russert in parity with anyone else employed by him; he was a financially calculable asset lost to bad timing, not a person. It’s corporate boilerplate and no one deserves that on their headstone.

“Tim epitomized excellence in journalism and unflinching commitment to the craft. Our profession has lost a stellar journalist.” – Sylvia Smith, president of the National Press Club.

More boilerplate. I feel like if I’d ever worked a day at a professional publication she’d say the same thing about me, which is nice…ish, but it’s a sound bite. Even in your worst imaginations of Russert, even if you believe that he was a soulless careerist devoted to squeezing the lowest form of communication out of his interview subjects, not even a sound bite artist deserves a sound bite memorial from a fellow journalist.

“As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it.” – President Bush

Come on, dude. You’re a president that so notoriously hates journalists that you’ve changed the paradigm for White House reporting. Just shut the fuck up and let us honor our dead.

“There wasn’t a better interviewer in television. Not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics. And he was also one of the finest men I knew.” – Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.

Less genuine than Bush. Fuck that last sentence.

“He was truly a great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills, and everything about politics and America. He was just a terrific guy.” – Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

I’m cool with this one. I don’t know from personal experience how “terrific” he was, but the rest at least sounds accurate to McCain’s mind.

“He delighted in scooping me and I felt the same way when I scooped him. When you slipped one past ol’ Russert, you felt as though you had hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league.” – Bob Schieffer, host of CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

Ol’ Russert. Home run off the best pitcher in the league. I don’t know what to think about this one, except to ask, when in the last five years has either of these guys scooped the other on something worth scooping/being scooped by?

“Today, broadcast journalism lost one of its giants, who will be remembered along with names like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. The city of Buffalo has also lost its favorite son, who loved his city and its hometown team, the Bills.” – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

I wish I could somehow see how long after the news of Russert’s death reached Pelosi’s office it took her interns to Google “Tim Russert,” “Buffalo,” and “Journalism.”

I don’t want to keep going. The other quotes are as preening and full-of-shit as you could ask for. What a terrible way to send a journalist off: lying. And not even a good, hard lie someone could call out, but fake sentiment. It’s easy to befriend a dead man; he’s not there to tell people what you really think.

I never particularly sought out Russert for truth, but I enjoyed the Buffalo connection and I enjoyed watching him more than others on his network and in his medium. But I can honestly say I didn’t know much or anything about the soul of the man, where his ethics or credentials came from. And neither did many of the politicians that submitted sound bites to this article. They did it because they know Russert has a base of fans that they want to impress or enlist, and so they spoke, venally, to his honor, regardless of their actual thoughts of the man or his profession.

In other circles, we merely raise our glasses, toast the game, and go to work.

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