Tim Russert, Barometer of Decline

How are  Tim Russert and former TV talk show host Dick Cavett alike? Both were lionized for possessing  virtues and abilities that should be the norm but are not. Sifting through the accolades for the departed Russert, we find that he was:

*fair

*hard-working

*relatively modest

*not filled with hate and venom and partisan zeal

This is all good. But what does it say about the media/political scene when virtues that were once commonplace become so rare as to deserve this adulation? Gosh, Ma, here’s a guy who actually prepares, cares about his job, sets high standards for himself, and tries to get at the truth rather than scoring points for his political agenda!  Call Ripley’s Believe it or Not!

And when did arrogance and self-worship so infest the press that their absence draws praise?

Again and again his legions of media mourners told us that on Russert’s show, guests  got questions that were probing and tough but never nasty, never the “gotcha” stuff that is such standard and boring fare today, most of which can be summed up in Eliot’s phrase: “A tedious argument of insidious intent.”  

It’s nice that Russert treated his guests with respect,  but we should spend more time denouncing the ME-dia types whose standard M. O. is going for the jugular. If we did, there might be more Russerts around and fewer of the highly partisan media  sharks who are barely distinguishable from paid political operatives.

The deification of Russert–and I mean no disrespect to him or his family–reminds me of the way Dick Cavett stood out when he was on TV in the 70s and 80s. As I’ve noted before, had Cavett been, say, a junior-college English teacher, he’d have seemed completely typical–intelligent, cultured, witty, well-read, a master of correct grammar.    In the intellectual wasteland of TV, however, Cavett loomed like an intellectual colossus. To wring the old joke once more, he’d written more books than most of his peers had read.

He and Russert both proved the truth of that old adage: “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

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