I’ve been reading thoughtful blogging in the wake of Tim Russert’s death, and lean toward the ambivalent writing, as I’ve been growing more exasperated with him as the election cycle progresses, but yes I cried Friday the way you do when anyone who’s loved or not loved dies unexpectedly, and he was both.
I understand the “what do we do now?” lament in losing our trusted election night guide, and have been enjoying the lead up to November, anticipating the wee hours he explains it all for me, contagious and disheveled big wonky teddy bear doing access politics at 3:00 AM, extracting clarity from chaos like no one else can. This is disorienting. Because he was a fixture his sudden death is a breach in continuity, like waking up one day to find all the McDonald’s restaurants are gone.
Of course no one *likes* McDonald’s, the most popular restaurant in the American universe. Just like Meet the Press is Sunday morning yelling time for the average political junkie, “FOR CHRISTSAKES TIMMY WHAT A TOOL YOU ARE, CAN’T YOU SEE HE’S LYING TO YOUR FACE! “ And now you’ve put me on the spot, reckoning with these conflicting emotions.
I spent the weekend reading archives and transcripts and seeing Tom Brokaw break down on Father’s Day was hard to take. We are now, rightly inundated in eulogy, the legacy will take shape in the time that takes. I’m still all over the map, but this sounds promising:
Based on what we saw first-hand, we would guess that Brother Russert really was the nicest guy in the world.
Sometimes, though, “nicest guys in the world” are the last to challenge conventional wisdom—even when it desperately needs to be challenged, examined, hollered about. In Tim’s case, we think he showed poor judgment in various instances over the years, as we’re all inclined to do. Chris Matthews touched on one possible error in judgment in his comments from Paris on Friday’s Countdown (text below). For once, we think Chris’ lack of impulse control served the public understanding—although he’s getting beaten up for his comment at various spots on the web.
Over the weekend, other members of the mainstream press corps did the thing that comes natural inside their group; they went on the air and told Group Tales, tales which reflected quite wondrously on Tim’s journalistic work—and, of course, by extension, most importantly, on them. Telling the truth is pretty much the last thing that enters these people’s heads. And so, they handed out novelized tales about Tim’s always brilliant work—failing to make the slightest attempt to be balanced, objective or truthful.
For the record, we’re talking about the way they described Tim’s work—not the way they described his decency as a person, a person they loved.
This isn’t really the week for such topics, though Tim’s death—more precisely, the torrent of industry propaganda it unleashed—demands that such topics be discussed. We’ll plan to look at some of those issues next week. In the meantime, we’ll suggest that you ponder a real possibility: The possibility that a guy who showed a fair amount of bad judgment—as we all do—may also have been the nicest guy in the world, just as you’ve seen him described.
Cognitive dissonance is the reason that’s so hard. People will tell themselves anything to avoid the discomfort of holding thoughts and feelings that cancel each other out. If his death can make us grapple with the gray area, that itself is quite a gift. Godspeed Mr. Russert, may angels sing thee to thy rest.