By Alan Caruba
Like others, on news of the death last Friday of NBC’s Tim Russert, I posted a brief tribute to the respected journalist.
It has been a long weekend of endless repetitive tributes and we are promised a week more and are likely to be offered a front-row seat at his wake and burial. This is excessive and inappropriate.
I think it reflects the inherent arrogance of news media professionals who regard what they do as a sacred calling and their most prominent members as demigods who decide what is news, what we should know, and how we should interpret it.
I say this as a former newspaper reporter, editor, and as a commentator whose views are widely posted on news and opinion Internet websites and published in a variety of publications. I know well the feeling of power that comes with calling a politician or other individual to get a quote or to grill them on some position they have taken on an issue.
Russert is being enshrined in the pantheon of journalists whose work influenced events through the print and broadcast’s coverage of it. He was instrumental in shaping our opinions of those elected or appointed to high office.
Much of the criticism directed to the mainstream media involves their deliberate effort to determine the outcome of elections, cheer the onset of a military conflict and then, when they grow weary of it, to seek an exit.
When not engaged in such decisions, they seek to influence public opinion to advance theirs and other’s agendas such as the shameful decades of lies printed and spoken about a non-existent “global warming.” Long after thousands of scientists worldwide have signed petitions to denounce those lies and a decade passed the beginning of global cooling, they continue to insist on printing those lies.
Russert’s domain was politics. The rise and fall of nations is dependent on who they choose to lead them and Russert did an excellent job of revealing the accuracy or falsehood, the changes in opinions given and revised, of national leaders. This is what journalism should do, but the now seemingly endless repetition of the memories of Russert held by his colleagues and co-workers betrays the view that they hold the future in their hands.
They do not. They report on events and personalities. They do not make the decisions that face those elected to respond to events such as an attack on the nation, a war to protect its citizens from further attacks, or the geopolitical ramifications of every decision. History judges that, but journalism is history being written on the run against tight deadlines. It is often wrong and subject to revision in hindsight that reaches back decades.
There is something very wrong about the treatment being accorded Tim Russert. It says more about the state of journalism in America today where its famed anchors are treated like celebrities while reaping large salaries, receive industry awards, honorary degrees, and the various ways we reward the rich and famous.
Journalism is not about being famous for being a journalist. It is about reporting the news as fairly, as accurately, and as impersonally as possible. I think Tim Russert knew that better than those who are inundating us with too much coverage of his untimely death.
News is not about journalists and journalism, unless, like Dan Rather, they fail in their obligation to report it properly. It is not about Barbara Walter’s former love affairs. It is not about Katie Couric’s ratings.
It is not about Tim Russert’s death days after the event when the nation faces serious economic and foreign policy challenges.
We tend to forget that journalists often get it wrong. Indeed, they often do this on a daily basis.