Tim Russert's reputation as a hard nosed journalist was a sham. He was a shill for the government

That is what is being asserted by Harper’s Magazine Editor Lewis Lapham inthis Salon article about the death of Walter Cronkite. Is there any substance to this? Was Russert’s reputation as a hard nosed journalist largely a myth?

I can’t think of any journalist I’ve personally noticed in modern times that ever actually gave the government a hard time aside from, in some cases, John Stossel. They’re all shills to some degree - no one will actually challenge or attack the government in any meaningful way.

One big dark spot on Russert was noticed when he showed serious incompetency on the way to the Iraq War.



Also, during the Libby trial it came out that the VP office felt it could control the message on Russert’s show.

I feel the criticism is a bit unfair, and that Russert’s failings were the failings of the press in general, it had become too comfortable and chummy with government. During the run up to the Iraq war, Russert made mistakes, like many journalists, but I don’t think they were anywhere in the same league as the mistakes of the NY Times.

Sadly for journalists it is all about access. If you are too hard nosed, bust too many chops, you will never get any access to anyone. They will all shun you. You’ll never get another interview.

As a journalist I can see the problem. Do your job and you can’t do your job. So you play footsie.

Russert, more than most, was able to toss something approaching hard questions. IIRC Rudolph Giuliani said upon Russert’s death that he was the guy every politician hated facing but his show was such that every politician felt they had to do that Sunday morning round (he said this in a nice, I respect the guy kind of way).

Was Russert all he could be? No. But he was working in the system as it stands and I think he pushed the edges a bit more than most. The vast majority of journalists will bend over in order to “do their job”.

Your OP link actually goes to an entry of Glenn Greenwald’s blog; there’s a link in Update I that goes to Lapham’s October 2008 piece. I only mention it because Greenwald consistently slams Russert as a prime (and mistakenly venerated) example of the shoddiness of the general “press” as it exists today. Go through his previous blog entries and you’ll find much more (and about many others).

Sounds like a journalistic case of penis envy to me. Tim Russert was the closest thing to anyone capable of asking a real question. He wasn’t a God but he did a better job than anybody else.

I found his interviews very disappointing. He often led up to a point then eschewed the important question. He was better than most, because they were on Larry Kings level. He was not a journalist in the way Murrow and Cronkite were. He caved to power and money.

I get this viewpoint, but it seems to me that if all you’re doing is functioning as a PR outlet for the government then you’re not doing much in the way of reporting. If you’re not uncovering new truths to present to your audience, you’re not adding much value.

What I’m trying to say is that journalism isn’t simply about asking some questions of the person centrally involved in the story, it’s about critical thinking. Think of all the great journalism performed in the Vietnam era, when the government and military leadership that was being reported on was generally hostile towards the journalists covering them. Those journalists did more than relay the official statements; they dug deeper, tried to find more candid sources, and connected some dots themselves. When people like Sheehan and Halberstam evaluated the assessments of lower ranking advisors in the field against the eternal optimism of men like Gen. Harkins, and decided to put more stock in the words of those on the ground, they did all Americans a service by presenting us with more information to frame the debate. I don’t think today’s journalists are willing or able to engage in that kind of journalism.

But that’s Greenwald and Lapham’s point – the best of a less-than-mediocre group remains less than mediocre. Lionizing Russert as a journalistic saint is simply wafting perfume over the garbage pile.

What I find most interesting about Greenwald’s position on the adequacy, competence, and credibility of the main stream media (noting that he’s very much the liberal) is the high-level similarity it has to the stereotypical Republican MSM-bashing talking points. At least, until you look at the underlying reasons and reasoning; Greenwald may be an avowed liberal, but a mindless partisan he’s not.

I wonder if modern media consultants and politicians did just that — saw how journalism evolved and the role it played and so countered it as best they could. Today, with no iconic anchors and an unparalleled amount of news outlets, it’s that much easier for an administration to cut a journalist out.

The previous administration had Fox News at their disposal, an ostensible journalistic endeavor that at its core was a business model that depended on tight alignment with the right wing. So they had this or that official on a particular show, how were other networks to compete? By having junior-level officials? News shows can barely hold their own against Brittney Hilton’s latest meltdown, so access is vital to the network/financier. Add to that the massive media push (fake journalists and fake news feeds) of the previous administration, and it becomes easier to see how a careful, crafty adviser could study the lessons you bring up and devise a host of ways around them.

There’s a new administration in town, of course, but has anyone seen signs that he’s putting things back inside Pandora’s box?

Well the Bush administration did a pretty good job of convincing people that if they were antagonistic that they wouldn’t have access.

Russert had access. I never saw him put hard questions to the Bush Administration officials the way I saw him to it to Clinton Administration officials. With Clinton Administration officials he would ask the hard questions and follow up and pester and looked to be doing his job. But with the other side, Cheney was right (for once) that he would be given a sycophantic worshiper as a lay down foil. Russert’s pose as an honest journalist, and the widespread (but not unanimous) acceptance of this did more damage to journalism and democracy than Fox News. Fox News is understood to be the journalistic equivalent of a home town sports writer by everyone. Russert had the access and the opportunity to ask the Republicans the questions Bill Moyers did not have the access to ask and follow up on. Instead, Russert is and should be remembered as the sort of ass who would waste his opportunities asking his guests if they would run for president and relentlessly following up on that. (It’s a hilarious SNL sketch.)

Right, he wouldn’t have continued to have access if he’d put the hard questions.

I don’t like many members of the media, whether they lean left or right. Russert was one of the few I respected. I don’t think this is a fair comment about him whatsoever.

He would not have had access to the Republicans. Democrats did continue to give him access when he was quite hard nosed about their policies and personalities. But nice to see that you agree that he did not put the hard questions to the Republicans.

Seriously? That’s all you care about? Incidentally I don’t agree because I haven’t followed his career at all so I cannot comment. :mad::rolleyes:

Since your ability to comprehend what you are reading seems to be lacking I will be more explicit. He would not have had access to the ADMINISTRATION. Which being Republican makes any comments about Democrats gratuitous and completely irrelevant.

Yet you comment as if you knew anyway. Do you even read all the sentences in your posts? What I care about is the even handed application of his skills. He pressed Democrats with strong questions and follow-ups. He did not press Republicans with strong questions and he did not follow up.

Since you seem to feel free to accuse others of not comprehending what they are reading, might I suggest you read your text before and after your comment “so I cannot comment”. I do not think that the phrase “so I cannot comment” means what you think it does. You seem to misunderstand that I expect a journalist who had access to both the Clinton and Bush administrations to ask both tough questions regardless of whether it gets them cut off from access. Russert was all over the blow job that meant nothing, but utterly quiet about WMD, yellow cake, Valerie Plame etc. When it came to the obvious lies and propaganda that got us into an open ended expensive and idiotic war on the other side of the world, Russert raised no critical questions. He was, as the OP opines, a government shill.

This should be carved on Russert’s tombstone.

Point taken but Lapham’s critisism is over the top (IMO).