Friday, June 13, 2008

R.I.P Tim Russert

Most of the journalists I respect are best described as rebels or outlaws. Tim Russert was neither. Nevertheless he was a beacon of American journalism at its absolute best.

He was surgical.

Much of the press is a blunt instrument, employing a sledgehammer to perform heart surgery when a scalpel is needed. Chasing ambulances, hulking over police scanners, copying & pasting celebrity gossip, and abbreviating vital information is abhorrent. Yuck!

He was potent.

Watching the merge of entertainment and information in order to dumb it down has created a bastard child citizenry, a mix of BET's 106 & Park with NPR's News & Notes that is unrecognizable to the substantive and shallow alike. It does a disservice to both groups.

He was confrontational (yet civil).

Asking questions has become so hard because people are so sensitive. For good reason I assume, too many people have been unnecessarily harmed or embarrassed in the media. Often inquiry is a chance to explain yourself but we're all afraid of being caught -- gotcha! -- whether we're guilty or innocent is irrelevant if not given the chance to explain.

He was human.

During the broadcasts he talked about being a Buffalo Bills fan, his father, funny stories and small quips, wits and life. He preserved humanity in what's becoming a robotic institution of dead cyborgs who have no enthusiasm about the fourth estate. I won't speak for anyone else, but this thing you call the media, journalism, storytelling or writing is personal to me --- I LOVE THIS JOB.

For me, waking up on Sunday mornings to watch Meet the Press and Tim Russert was my secular sermon. The theme music of Meet the Press and Russert's narration was my weekly World Series. I would pretend to be the host of Meet the Press. Now as an incisive writer, rebel journalist and critical thinker, I often tell interviewees -- "...let me put on my Tim Russert hat on."

Surely we should know neither he or his show was perfect. Journalism in America has taken its share of credibility hits (Iraq War). Still, Russert made this whole experiment called democracy worth it. Once a week he carved out a tiny space in the public sphere that was a thoughtful, critical and open-minded place to participate.

R.I.P. citizen Russert.

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