Mourning in America

In the crevices of the World Interglactic Headquarters of News Cut, a few of us — in hushed tones — have been kicking around the reaction to last week’s death of Tim Russert, glancing over our shoulders at some colleagues, walking by our furtive encounters, looking at us, then whispering to one another, “those people…. they hate America.”

Now, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls has applied science — sort of — to the conversation, by analyzing the reaction — and coverage — of Russert’s death with that of ABC’s Peter Jennings death.

Given the comparison to Jennings, I think the coverage of Russert’s death – with no disrespect to him or his family – was out of proportion.

Why? My analysis is that there is more to these narratives than just that a national news personality died.

Jennings, despite his long successful career (his newscast was rated first or second for most of his tenure) was more of a political outsider. Born in Canada, Jennings had a more international outlook of any of his anchor peers, and had spent several years as a foreign correspondent. It wasn’t until 2003 that he acquired U.S. citizenship, but conservatives regularly attacked him for “liberal bias” and a “European agenda.”

On the other hand, Christopher Martin found that Russert was the ultimate Washington insider, “where the worst a liar can do is misspeak.”

But it was, perhaps, another assertion Martin made that is more noteworthy: What’s the use of the Sunday morning talk shows anymore, with the same dozen guests rotating from CBS to NBC to ABC to Fox?

I think the New York Times’ Media Equation columnist David Carr got it right when he observed that the mourning seemed not only for Russert, but an attempt to celebrate and shore up the increasingly irrelevant establishment political journalism.

Perhaps that question will be answered if — as rumored — Chris Matthews is deemed a worthy choice to replace Mr. Russert.

Meanwhile, Boston-based media critic Dan Kennedy is considering this question of whether there was an overreaction to Russert’s death.

One comment intrigued me:

On the media and Russert, the man touched many people and the reporting was dead-on accurate.

No quibble with the first part. None at all. The second part — reporting dead-on accurate — not so much. Did the questioning on Meet the Press set the news agenda for the country with its original reporting? Or did it reflect and react to the work of reporters — most of them unknown to most Americans — during the previous week?

  • Joel

    I for one think there was way too much coverage of his Russert’s passing. Especially when at the same time Iowa was in the midst of historic flooding. In fact, it seemed to me that national coverage (CNN for example) of the flooding didn’t really pick up until coverage of Russert became passe.

    It seemed to me they treated his death with almost the same revere as the death of a president.

  • David Wilford

    Having never paid attention to Russert or watched any of the other talking heads on Sunday morning, I can confidently say that I haven’t missed a thing in terms of actual news.

    Maybe that’ll tell you something, Bob.

  • RRolle

    The press covering a press story about how the press is important. Hard to believe. Russert was an ok bloke in a bad lot. The current TV political coverage of the campaign has all the flavor of the 24hr news cycle on a gossip binge amongst a bunch of unlikable personalities who love nothing more than to hear themselves talk. If Russert was just a step above these talking heads as the “ultimate DC Insider”, that’s hardly a reason to enshrine as a pillar of journalistic professionalism. Personally, I would be a lot more affected and hurt if we lost one the anchors of ATC .

  • noen

    I agree with everyone else. It’s been a week and still the self absorbed media, including MPR, are talking about his death in breathless prose. How about covering the news?

    “What’s the use of the Sunday morning talk shows anymore” You mean “Meet the GOP press?” Nobody takes them seriously. It’s been left to the mouthbreathers. The conversation has moved on.

    Tim Russert was Dick Cheney’s tool and he lied to the FBI to protect him. Some journalist.

  • Bob Collins

    I’m not inclined to be mean about it. I mourn the good son, devoted father, solid husband, nice guy. I don’t hold his day job against him . I’m far more concerned about the impact of having one less good father on the planet than one less good TV host.

    that said, what’s with the constant references to Buffalo. Has NOBODY else from Buffalo ever made good?