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Brendan Nyhan on Tim Russert:

Tim Russert's interview with Rudy Giuliani on "Meet the Press" is a perfect reflection of the scandal-driven priorities of the Washington press corps. Guiliani is a top presidential candidate with little knowledge of or experience in foreign policy. Norman Podhoretz, one of his advisers, wants to bomb Iran and thinks Iraq's WMD are in Syria.


Now, there are certainly serious ethical questions about Guiliani. But these pale in comparison to questions about how he would conduct himself in office, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Unfortunately, however, Russert wants to break news and the way to do that is to force Giuliani to go on the record about skeletons in his closet.

I generally agree with Nyhan, and find him to be a clear-headed thinker in an often hazy and hyperpartisan blogosphere. But this critique of Russert reminds me of the severe case of majoritarianism that many bloggers--both Left and Right--seem to suffer from. Nyhan, like some other bloggers, seem to see it as the journalistic duty of the Sunday Show/talking heads crowd to cater to their every whim regarding policy.

The problem here, as Matthew Yglesias essentially notes, is that there are two ways of looking at Giuliani's foreign policy vision. Whereas Nyhan considers it weak (and I'm inclined to agree), others probably view Rudy as an experienced executive informed by the 9/11 crisis. He is a "get things done" kind of guy, and knows how to make the tough decisions. Etc.

So what is a Tim Russert to do? You can't please everyone all of the time, so the best thing you can do is talk about the issues that could shake all potential voters. A Republican and a Democrat may disagree on Rudy's foreign policy, but both can agree that he is a pretty bad husband with some shady business dealings in his closet. Those character issues may not matter to bloggers who obsess over nuance, but they still matter to an electorate that often identifies character and "likeability" as positive political qualities.

As I've argued in the past, the Russerts of the world fill a particular role in American politics. If, like Nyhan, you fear Rudy Giuliani's policy on Iran, than the best way to peal away at his candidacy's onion is to start with matters that all people can relate to. If the candidate is deemed unethical, they may never get the opportunity to bomb a country or cut a tax. Russert--who is ultimately beholden to ratings and advertisers just like any other TV personality--knows this, and understands what his viewers will find mutually dissettling or pleasing.

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