Russert: Iraq War Salesman

More on Tim Russert, the late media hack who was described as a hard-hitting man of integrity by his TV brethren (and even some of my liberal friends) but who helped the Bush administration sell the Iraq war, can be found in a series of Daily Howler columns. Here is an excerpt. The non-italicized text is Howler editor Bob Somerby:

While everyone yodeled the flattering claims [in the days immediately following Russert's death], a few people poked at the truth.

One such person was poor hapless [Chris] Matthews, uncontrollably stating his view to Keith Olbermann last Friday night. It was perhaps the wrong time for such ruminations. But mere hours after Russert’s death, Matthews told Olbermann what he’d been thinking about his colleague and friend. We think his comments take us close to the actual truth about Russert’s real work. What Matthews says here is very important—and it’s profoundly unflattering to Russert. You still can’t find it on Nexis:

MATTHEWS (6/13/08): One other thing, and it may be tricky to say this and I’ll say it. When we went to war with Iraq, he and I had a little discussion about that and this is where he is every man. This is where Tim is Mr. or Miss America or Mrs. America. He is us as a country. I said, Why—how can you believe this war is justified? And he said, “The nuclear thing. If they have a bomb that they can use, we’ve got to deal with. We can’t walk away from that.”

And that to me was the essence of what was wrong with the whole case of the war. They knew the argument that would sell with Mr. America, with the regular guy, with the true American patriot. They used the argument that would sell, that would get us into that war. Tim was right on the nail. He was us, the American people. And that to me is something that has been coming in my head the last couple of hours when Tim and I had that conversation, that that was the thing that sold America. And the guys who wanted the war used that one thing that would sell the patriot in Tim Russert. [...]

It’s for the good of us all and Tim never forgot the purpose of truth in getting at it was the good of us all. We needed the truth. And boy, did I look up to him.

“We needed the truth,” Matthews said, back-pedaling furiously in praise of Russert. Moments earlier, he’d said that Russert had been a dupe—a stooge; a mark—for those who toyed with the truth in the run-up to war in Iraq. [...]

Somerby also quotes a Bill Moyers interview where Russert says he wishes someone had called him with information suggesting the nuclear claims were bogus. In response to this embarrassing admission of journalistic incompetence, Moyers noted that CBS’s Bob Simon had "just picked up the phone" and was able to air a report questioning the claims.

Tim Russert, A Man for Our Time

russert summer home

The late Tim Russert's summer home in Nantucket, from the Cape Cod Times via Bob Somerby.

Being a "get along, go along" guy pays handsomely. Here's a Hartford Courant editorial about Russert during the Scooter Libby trial:

.... In his own trial testimony, Russert explained his own unique approach to the concept of "off the record" conversations with public officials. Russert said public officials do not have to ask to go off the record with him. They are always presumptively off the record. Then, if he wants to get them on the record, he revisits the point and asks them to go public.

This is a wonderful, generous strategy, and the only problem with it is that it represents a complete inversion of the standard operating practices of journalism. Every reporter who works at this newspaper, and pretty much every reporter professionally employed at any other reputable organ of the press has been instructed to do the opposite: assume that every utterance is on the record unless the utterer has explicitly gone off the record before uttering. ....

But Russert's policy is one of his own invention, and it's the kind of policy you'd have if you prized your cozy relationship with powerful people more highly than you prized your role as a reporter.

I mention all this because, here and there, you read comments about the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and how much he damaged the First Amendment by sweating a bunch of journalists. Please. It's more like he lanced some kind of infectious boil.

And I mention it because now you don't have to watch "Meet the Press."

I'm sure that if Russert apologizes for pretending to fight a subpoena without telling us he had already sung like a canary or if he renounces his cozy relationships with the powerful, someone will tell you. Not me. ....

ANWR - A Luntzian Acronym

[Letter to Andrew Leonard published in Salon (prob. subscription-only) about his use of ANWR instead of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge]

Just a quibble, ANWR is a convenient abbreviation for a journalist but it's also a term that right-wing consultant Frank Luntz used with numbing, Goebbels-like repetitiveness in his infamous strategy report for Republicans (the one where he recommended using "death tax" for estate tax and "energy exploration" for oil drilling). He claims (crows) that "an incredible 87% of Americans" don't know what the initials stand for. Whether or not that's true, "drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge" sounds worse than "drilling for oil in ANWR." Using the full term reminds us of the undespoiled environment that powerful interests want to ruin (oil spills without punishment, anyone?) so that Americans can spend a few more hours in their cars.

(And while I'm not part of Luntz's 87%, I see ANWR so much I had forgotten that the A stood for Arctic and not Alaska.)