24 June 2008

The Russert Antidote

Tired of the canonization of Tim Russert? This shot of Alexander Cockburn's column in the Nation magazine should clear your palate. From Cockburn's perspective, it's no wonder that Russert's been treated in death like a statesman, for he was as much a pillar of the establishment as any politician. But understanding that, it shouldn't have surprised Cockburn that Russert never asked the questions Cockburn would want answered. In time, a more inquisitive and critical Russert, one more committed to questioning policies than past statements, would have lost his access to powerful people, but the whole point of Meet the Press was to present powerful people to the NBC viewing public.The mistake too many people make today is in thinking that having access, being able to meet the powerful, is the only way to get real news about politics. If that were so, then news reporting must not have existed until the age of television, or radio at the earliest. Once upon a time, Presidents, Cabinet secretaries and powerful congressmen would have considered it beneath their dignity to do interviews in public or on the record. But during that time, journalism flourished because reporters knew that the real story usually wasn't what politicians thought, much less what they might say on the record, but what they did. I'm not sure that we're better off in an era when the politicians can go on TV and spin the meaning of their policies, often in defiance of the obvious truth. But if you want your leaders to take tough questions, then demand a law or constitutional amendment that would require the President and the Cabinet secretaries to go before Congress once a week, like the Prime Minister of England does, and answer questions from both parties as best they can. If that became a regular event, then NBC wouldn't have to pay anyone to replace Tim Russert. In these belt-tightening times, all the networks ought to support this idea.

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