I was shocked and upset to hear of Tim Russert's untimely death yesterday. And then I was a little surprised and confused that it hit me as hard as it did. Russert is--was! It's still hard to believe--the embodiment of the Washington journalistic establishment that has not served the country particularly well over the last decade. Particularly from the runup to the Iraq war through the Valerie Plame scandal and this year's presidential campaign, the relationships between the people in the news and the people reporting the news seemed to have way too much to do with how, and whether, stories reached the public. And Russert, whose passing elicited heartfelt expressions of sympathy from all points on the political compass, was at the center of all those stories even as he reported on them. The Democratic strategist/wonk Ed Kilgore years ago wrote about the centrality of "Meet the Press" to Washington culture in a blog post titled "How to Sound Like a Washington Insider";
10. "Meet." Short for the most important weekly gabathon, "Meet the Press," the Washington equivalent of Sunday School, as in "Didja see what Russert asked Frist on 'Meet?'"
I don't think it's unfair to question whether that was good for a democratic society.
None of this is to diminish from the wrenching grief his family and friends must be suffering. Tom Brokaw's emotional announcement of the sad event is powerful and obviously heartfelt. And I felt it too. It's almost impossible to imagine the political culture of 21st century America without Russert at the center of it, and the genuineness of his personality--the Buffalo Bills references if nothing else--surely contributed to that.