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In Defense of Russert

Matthew Yglesias on Tim Russert:

Turning back to the Democrats, a serious question about Clinton's biofuels subsidies or Barack Obama's past support of coal gasification schemes might prompt some embarrassment and would be worth asking. But it would be bizarre to jump initially to these topics since they're less important than the more general issue of carbon caps and auctioned permits and voters deserve to hear about the important issues. But Russert wouldn't do it that it. It wouldn't be "tough" to provide politicians with an opportunity to explain their plans. Rather, the "tough" thing to do would be to leap straight ahead to whatever question is most likely to create problems for the politician irrespective of the importance of the issue. The reason, of course, is that Russert doesn't care -- at all -- about whether or not his actions inform the American electorate. Rather, he cares about creating a "news-making" event -- likely something embarrassing for the politician -- and about burnishing his reputation for toughness. He attracts a circle of admirers who share his perverse and unethical lack of concern for whether or not his work helps produce an informed public, gobs of less-prominent television journalists seek to emulate his lack of concern with informing the public, print journalists eagerly court opportunities to appear on the non-informative shows hosted by Russert and his emulators, and down the rabbit hole we go.

But he's tough.

It's pretty obvious that the far Left doesn't like Tim Russert. We've certainly heard this before.

This latest hate-fest appears to have blown up over a question Russert posed to Hillary Clinton during the most recent Democratic primary debate. When Russert pressured Senator Clinton on having the National Archives release communications between her and her husband, the former first lady was clearly taken aback. President Clinton lashed out at Russert, as did the Netroots, and the pile on proceeded.

But Russert's inquiry was fair. If you go back and read the letter in question, you'll see that President Clinton was very specific in keeping certain communications between he and his wife sealed. If Senator Clinton wishes to use her time in the White House as a resume booster, well then the exchanges she may have had with the president are in fact relevant. Russert was right to press her on this, and anyone not too afraid of the Clinton messaging machine should do likewise (would it not be a valuable tactic for Senator Obama, who constantly has his experience called into question?).

Anyway, it's questions such as this one that have apparently given Russert a bad reputation. Well what is a Tim Russert to do?

According to Yglesias, he should instead be asking questions about carbon caps and auctioned permits. These are important Matthew Yglesias. They're important to me, too. However, there are some who think that all of this climate crisis stuff is just hogwash, and would probably rather eat glass than spend their Sunday morning's listening to Barack Obama talk about coal gasification and alternative energy. Tim Russert can't cater to every single policy nuance that his viewers may take a real or cursory interest in. These are timed segments, with commercials and such. Not to mention the campaigns no doubt send a laundry list of untoucables prior to their appearance on the show.

Russert in fact does candidates a favor by asking them these political questions. Why? Because it's these things that will be on the under-the-radar direct mail pieces used to slam them. It's questions about sealed documents and President Clinton's secrecy that will run on targeted radio spots, not Hillary's position on biofuel subsidies. Every week, Russert gives these candidates the opportunity to practice their tested and honed messages on national television, thus giving them free campaign time and exposure.

It isn't Russert's job to educate you. That's your job. If you want to know more about Obama's energy policy, go read about it. You're never going to get so deep in the policy muckety-muck in a ten minute segment. It just won't happen, and for the sake of all the potential glass eaters out there, it shouldn't.

Others Blogging It:

Carpetbagger Report
Ann Althouse
Kevin Drum

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