'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Contrarian View About Tim Russert 

PROGRAM NOTE: Don't understand the bursting of the housing bubble, the ongoing credit crunch and their social significance? Please see yesterday's post, The Masque of the Red Death (Part 2). Now, on to a belated consideration of Tim Russert.

INITIAL POST: I have to admit, I never watched Russert very much. My immediate impression was that he was not someone to be taken seriously, and with the emergence of the Internet as a source for numerous alternative media sources, I decided that television news was irrelevant. I have spent more time watching NBA basketball (probably about 10 hours per season in recent years) than I have watching the networks and cable news channels.

I encountered Russert's book about his father in a book store awhile ago, and paged through it out of curiosity. Rarely have I subjected myself to anything so swarmy and sentimental, so reliant upon stereotypical characterization of anything beyond the experiences of his nostalgic blue collar Buffalo youth. Disney, especially Bambi and Lady and the Tramp, are high art by comparison. There was something offensive about it, as if he was packaging his sanitized personal, intimate familial experiences for a gullible public and personal career advancement.

On Friday night, MSNBC ran a clip from an interview of Russert and his father several years ago (my wife was watching it, I swear), and it was creepy, as his father just sat next to Russert silently as Russert droned on and on about his greatness. There was little interaction or engagement between the two of them, as if his father had begrudgingly agreed to participate for his son's benefit.

In other words, from what little I know about him, Russert came across as a self-absorbed hot dog. Hence, I have to rely upon others to explain him to me, this man whose death, I am told, touches us all so deeply. Consider As'ad Abukhalil of the Angry Arab News Service:

What is the big deal, I don't get it. He represents that annoying tendency in the U.S. to indulge in self-praise and self-congratulations. He is one of those who have to say "only in America" several times a day. He also represented patriotic journalism --according to which you should not question an administration in a time of war. He also has this nostalgic view of parents and grandparents: the glorification of the past, with little regard for the plight of women, minorities, homosexuals in this past. The "greatest generation" that Brokaw wrote so much about was a generation that practiced segregation, that confined women to their homes, that watched lynching of blacks, that blatantly beat homosexuals, that spoke about "the others" only in vulgar and pejorative terms. Yesterday, Chris Mathews outed him on MSNBC: he said that Russert was a supporter of the American invasion of Iraq.

I'm with you, As'ad, I don't get it, either. Another disturbing thing about the MSNBC coverage of Russert's death was the subtext. One doesn't become a quality journalist through intelligence, hard work, education, skill, creativity, scepticism and an artisanal pride in one's craft. Instead, Russert demonstrates that one's status as a journalist is currently defined by the extent to which a ideologically useful mythology can be constructed around you, a characterization of you as the individual embodiment of the country's purported virtues, with obligatory roots in a working class that no longer exists.

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