Why Didn't They Call Me?
A little highlight from the Moyers show --- here's the King of the Kewl Kids going all Sergeant Shultz when asked to explain how he got used and discarded like a wet kleenex by Dick Cheney:
BILL MOYERS: Was it just a coincidence in your mind that Cheney came on your show and others went on the other Sunday shows, the very morning that that story appeared?
TIM RUSSERT: I don't know. The NEW YORK TIMES is a better judge of that than I am.
BILL MOYERS: No one tipped you that it was going to happen?
TIM RUSSERT: No, no. I mean-
BILL MOYERS: The-- the Cheney-- office didn't make any-- didn't leak to you that there's gonna be a big story?
TIM RUSSERT: No. No. I mean, I don't-- I don't have the-- this is, you know, on MEET THE PRESS, people come on and there are no ground rules. We can ask any question we want. I did not know about the aluminum-tube story until I read it in the NEW YORK TIMES.
BILL MOYERS: Critics point to September eight, 2002 and to your show in particular, as the classic case of how the press and the government became inseparable.
Someone in the administration plants a dramatic story in the NEW YORK TIMES And then the Vice President comes on your show and points to the NEW YORK TIMES. It's a circular, self-confirming leak.
TIM RUSSERT: I don't know how Judith Miller and Michael Gordon reported that story, who their sources were. It was a front-page story of the NEW YORK TIMES. When Secretary Rice and Vice President Cheney and others came up that Sunday morning on all the Sunday shows, they did exactly that.
TIM RUSSERT: What my concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them.
But lest you think that Russert is some sort of prima donna who waits for the phone to ring, he later said:
TIM RUSSERT: I-- look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth. Now-
BILL MOYERS: They're the ones who know the story?
TIM RUSSERT: Well, they're working on the problem. And they understand the detail much better than a lotta the so-called policy makers and-- and-- and political officials.
BILL MOYERS: But they don't get on the Sunday talk shows--
TIM RUSSERT: No. You-- I mean-- they don't want to be, trust me. I mean, they can lose their jobs, and they know it. But they're-- they can provide information which can help in me challenging or trying to draw out-- sometimes their bosses and other public officials.
Well, he would have worked them hard if only they'd have picked up the phone and called him. Isn't there a yellow pages on Nantucket for gawd's sake?
BRADY (8/03): [Tim] Russert is part of the Nantucket NBC crowd, one of the cliques that fuels the isle's social engine. It was Jack Welch, the story goes, the 20-year chairman and CEO of NBC's parent company, General Electric, who drew network folk to Nantucket.
Russert and his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, began summering on Nantucket in 1992. Russert has said he can go days without leaving his house except for a bike ride to get the newspapers. Then he'll sit in his rocking chair and watch the grass blow in the breeze....
Russert's boss, NBC CEO Bob Wright, is also on the scene. Add to the cocktail chatter the latest tidbits from the Oval Office, care of White House correspondent David Gregory, who was married on Nantucket and returns with his wife, Beth, for vacations.
Russert's insistence that he is just a "blue collar guy" is reminiscent of many of these millionaire news celebrities who like to play the part of some sort of middle American everyman (or everywoman)for their audience. Maureen Dowd is one of the worst, as well as the unctuous Cokie Roberts and the 1950's sit-com Dad wannabe, Chris Matthews. In fact, it is an extremely common trait among the DC courtiers. They truly seem to believe they are just regular guys --- and therefore, their concerns are the same as regular Americans. Only, you know, they aren't.
Somerby has been discussing this this week (which is where I got the Nantucket item) as it relates to the recent absurdity of Maureen Dowd condemning Edwards for his expensive haircut because her cop-Dad used to get his cut by a barber --- as if the rich celebrity Dowd is just a working class gal herself.
But it's a long standing phenomenon that was best exemplified by the famous Sally Quinn article in which she quoted a long list of media personalities pretending to be small town rubes or crusty working class dudes who were appalled by the slick, aristocratic behavior of the man from Arkansas. All this despite the fact that Versailles on the Potomac, like all imperial cities filled with power and intrigue, is thoroughly worldly and certainly vastly wealthy. At least the media cognoscenti are. They apparently believed they could sell themselves as just regular folks like your average office clerk, construction worker or small business owner and Claud Rains themselves into a frenzy over extra-marital sex and the rest of the country would believe them. It didn't.
It's certainly not a problem for rich people to advocate for the poor or the middle class as Edwards, Kennedy, Roosevelt and millions of other wealthy progressives have done in our history. But trying to pretend that you are poor or middle class yourself ("just a blue collar guy from Buffalo") from the podia of your own TV shows (or your fabulous summer home in Nantucket)is just plain insulting.
And it makes them unable to do their jobs, as Russert plainly shows. He apparently believes that the concerns of the people with whom he hob-nobs are the concerns of the average American --- because he thinks his rich friends are average Americans, just like him. His obvious confusion about "working" his mid-level sources "hard" --- by waiting for the phone to ring --- makes that clear. The only people who can get Tim Russert on the phone are other people like Tim Russert.
Political journalism in America has mostly become an elaborate kabuki dance. Blogs may not be the answer, but they are at least an antidote for those of us who have been watching this show for the past decade or more and are simply desperate for some assurance from others that we aren't crazy --- those guys with the black and white make-ep are performing some sort of ritual, not doing journalism. Moyers went a long way toward putting that together for the non-blog reading news junkies last night. Maybe now it will begin to sink in.
Update: David Sirota says the beltway media elite are in total freak out mode because of Moyer's piece. Good.
Update II: Jane also notes that the beltway elite are gathering around the King of the Kewl Kidz today, pledging fealty and passing out head shots.