You can chalk up the following to jealousy if you wish. When I die I am sure to be mourned by my wife, my sons, and my cat. Maybe. I’m not so sure about the cat. When Tim Russert died last week I watched with amazement the unending flow of homage, the tributes, and the tears, most of it genuine, some of it self-serving, all of it repeated on a twenty four hour cycle. On every channel, every cable news show there were Russert’s best friends – of which there appear to be so many that the poor man must have had a hard time getting any work done. There is soon to be a People Magazine cover of Russert, possibly replacing Tiger Woods or Angelina Jolie. No doubt about it, this was a love fest unseen since Woodstock, only here youthful nudity was replaced by tearful anecdotes as to what a good guy was gone, what a great reporter was now silenced, and what a super husband and father, what a noble son was lost too soon. And too soon it was. No man should die at the height of his powers at 58. Truly a sad event. Russert was at the top of his game when he died. And yet…and yet…something didn’t smell right to me.
I can recall the death of Edward R. Murrow, a journalist who changed the course of history with his war reportage and his probing peace-time questions. First, he brought to us the suffering and the grit of Londoners during the Blitz. And then, he single-handedly started the movement to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was recklessly poisoning the well of this democracy. When Murrow died, many mourned, but it was nothing compared to the grief-o-rama shown by the media for Russert these past days. What I finally concluded was that this mourning for Russert on the part of his fellow journalists was self-serving, it was “Look at us; we’re not such bad guys after all. Jolly Tim was a good guy – and we’re good guys too if you only take the time to look.”
Come on folks; let’s face a few inconvenient facts. For the past eight years we have been lied into a dreadful, failed war, the economy has been mismanaged into a recession, America has lost its reputation as the bastion of good-government (thanks to the tortured bodies and tortured truths of the Bush years); an environment besieged, and soaring gas prices which promise inflationary prices on basics such as food. Thousands of old people will not be able to afford their medications, and thousands of young people will be denied a higher education as the result of these past years. It was a time when the rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the middle class got squeezed as never before. And this happened on Mr. Russert’s watch. Russert was in no way responsible for these events; he was after all a journalist not a law maker and a pretty good journalist too. But as a “Meet the Press” news-watcher I marveled at Russert’s alleged fairness which gave the same respect to Dick Cheney’s lies as it did to Al Gore’s truths. Fair is the operative word here. Tim Russert was always fair – and to be always fair to your powerful guests means that you are often if not always unfair to your powerless country. Where were the probing questions on “Meet the Press” in the run up to the war? Here was this devoutly religious journalist who managed to compartmentalize his morality so that it never spoke up on critical issues that affected this country deeply. Sad to say, Mr. Russert was just a more genial version of the mainstream press – another guy who failed to do his job properly, but failed while looking jolly which helped make his failure appear to be a success. He had something close to the bully pulpit in “Meet the Press”, and with his failure to probe deeply for the truth, it cost the lives of so many Americans and Iraqis, and the consequences of his unasked questions will be with us for decades to come. Without taking back a word of the above I wish him to rest in peace, and feel for his family in their loss, for he was clearly a good and loving man. Just not a very good journalist if you believe that a journalist should have but one friend - the truth.
Contributing writer, Sherman Yellen, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist, has won two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his drama John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America. His Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Emmy and won the Christopher Award. Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. Yellen's other plays include Strangers, December Fools and Josephine Tonight! Sherman Yellen received a lifetime achievement award in Arts and Letters from Bard College.
Labels: Commentary, Edward R. Murrow, Media, Sherman Yellen, Tim Russert, War