There is nothing I hate more than when people exploit tragedies in order to showcase how compassionate or sensitive they can be. Maybe you know the kind of people I’m talking about. I know it might sound like I’m just being a cynical asshole, but I honestly feel like there are people who, maybe subconsciously but maybe not, enjoy the opportunity that getting worked up over the death of Princess Diana or Heath Ledger affords them to breakup the monotony of their daily lives or get a little sympathy of their own from people.
David Cross has a great bit that touches on the sort of thing I‘m talking about. On his second live album, he talks about people “who create their own identity by co-opting other people’s pain.” He has a great line where he asks, “Do you think on September 11th, that the people who worked at the New York, New York Casino felt it a little deeper?”
I always found it incredibly insensitive when people take a tragedy that causes legitimate and excruciating emotional pain and turn it into a bumper sticker or a calendar to prove what a caring person they are.
That being said, who am I to decide who has the right to feel a certain way and who doesn’t. There is nothing wrong with mourning the death of someone you never met even if it is a celebrity and there certainly is nothing wrong with mourning the victims of September 11 whether you live in Manhattan or North Dakota. Many of you will recall how devastating the assassination of John Lennon was. The saddest thing was that he was more than just a celebrity. Lennon had become an icon for the peace movement and might have had a chance to actually affect the world. All of that unfulfilled potential to really change things left a void. When somebody leaves such a huge void behind, I think that is where the legitimate grief can be felt by those who never even met the guy.
Such is the case with the passing of Tim Russert.
It seems like each year I grow more and more disillusioned with everything from mythical beings like Santa Claus and God to the credibility of the U.S. government and the media. We’re living in an era where American muckrakers and watchdogs are more important than ever and, despite a multitude of news organizations and outlets, it feels like we are being let down. Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee finally released two long-awaited reports that basically said that George W. Bush and his administration intentionally misled Americans in making the case for the war in Iraq. Until now, everybody knew the case for war was bullshit but people liked to think that Bush was just the loveable goof who just didn‘t know any better. Now, it appears that he knew he was lying and didn’t care. To me, this is a huge news story but the network news programs, with the exception of NBC’s Brian Williams who briefly mentioned the story, decided to focus on the juicy gossip surrounding Barack Obama’s search for a running mate.
I’m not really sure why it seems like the media is so shallow. I often feel like conflicts of interest causes a lot of reporters and lead anchors to fear digging too deep or say certain things. NBC is part of a huge corporation that has so many different companies under the G.E. umbrella that you wonder if some stories that might hurt any one of those companies get ignored. Christ, Rupert Murdoch owns half of the media on the planet. His company even owns MySpace.
In a sea of douche bag media types, I’ve got my core guys like I’m sure you do. We’ve all got our go-to guys that we trust. John Stewart is more intelligent than the casual The Daily Show watcher might realize. He basically brought down CNN’s Crossfire by exposing it for a shallow façade and calling Tucker Carlson out for wearing that ridiculous bowtie. Bill Maher is another guy I trust to ask the hard questions and to focus on the stories that matter most. The fact that he doesn’t subscribe to the superstition that is organized religion is also an endearing quality. Of course, those two are comedians and that often hurts the way some people see them as traditional journalists. Ironically, they’re two of the best journalists we have.
Tim Russert was more of a mainstream guy, but a mainstream guy who I really trusted. I didn’t just trust him, I felt like he actually had my back. Russert was in a position to hold politicians accountable for their actions and he did it every week.
It sure is hard being a fair and objective reporter when politicians, for example, can go get interviewed by a million other people if they think you are going to be to hard on them. Russert built Meet the Press into a place where politicians had to go in order to earn respect. It was both a privilege and right of passage for everyone in politics. It is dangerous being a good reporter these days. The world is becoming so fucked up that you can look liberal by just reporting the news because the truth is often the very thing that Al Franken’s wet dreams are made of. Look what CBS did to poor Dan Rather. A lot of media coverage, even the kind of stuff you see on CNN and MSNBC, tends to focus on idiot celebrities. When it does cover politics, media-types put a nice glossy coat of bullshit over it so even the attempts at being “hard-hitting” come off as insincere and superficial.
Let’s face it, even though we can vote for who we want, once somebody is in office they can get away with a lot of shit– shit that we’ll never know about. We’re actually pretty powerless when it comes to keeping greedy politicians in check. Tim Russert, who is a true watchdog that performs this country an incredible service, is one of the few people I will never know but I would call a friend because I always felt safe to know that there was still one prominent interviewer who could even get President Bush and Dick Cheney to sit down with him. Tim Russert had the country’s best interests at heart. I never met him, saw him in person, or knew anything about him but it was obvious that he understood how crucial Meet the Press was and a true friend to anyone who values the role a reporter has in trying to keep politicians honest.
Replacing Russert will be a difficult task. Chris Mathews is probably the likely successor but he often can seem like something out of a SNL skit. Russert was the perfect blend of professionalism, personality, and political savvy. This country needs someone like Tim Russert. Honestly, I need someone like Tim Russert so that I can have a little hope that the news media in this country is not beyond saving.