I liked Tim Russert, heard him go back and forth with Don Imus on numerous occasions. He was unfailingly good-natured, informative, and gave every impression of being, as one obituary described him, “the happy warrior.”
The media coverage of his unfortunate and unexpected death last week is what we might expect if the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, the Dali Lama, and Tiger Woods were killed by Osama bin Laden using a knife made from the bones of decapitated Christian virgins, anointed with the blood of aborted fetuses and handed to him by Satan personally.
Russert was well known, well liked, and highly respected in his field. It was proper for the NBC family to set aside a segment on each of their news shows for him; no one would find fault with making Sunday’s Meet the Press into a sympathetic retrospective. In fact, NBC dedicated virtually every news show to him; coverage of the US Open golf tournament showed Russert’s visage at every station break. MSNBC committed just about every show, throughout the weekend. Other news outlets, while not as extensive as Russert’s peers at NBC, were also exhaustive in their coverage.
Tim Russert, for all his fine qualities, was never the news. He was one of many who told us about the news. He was one of the best, and had been for a long time, but he was but the lens through which important events were displayed. For the media to invest this much energy in one of their own is a disturbing insight into how they view themselves. Acting as guardians of the First Amendment isn’t enough; the media have become the story, distorting the relative importance of events through their observation.
How might things have been different if this much energy had been expended verifying the Bush Administration’s claims for going to war in Iraq? Or any number of its other policies in the aftermath of 9/11? Too controversial, most likely. Sentiment is safer.