Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Criticism Of Tim Russert In LAT Unjustified

In a nasty column that used the ditsy writer and former unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Ariana Huffington, and an aide of Vice President Cheney, to try to discredit NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert on Monday, Scott Collins of the L.A. Times showed a woeful incomprehension of how successful Washington reporters necessarily have to comport themselves.

Russert is one of the Capital's most savvy and straight-talking reporters, and NBC is an outstanding news operation. Russert will easily overcome this unworthy attack. Being criticized by Huffington , and I suspect by Collins, is an honor.

It is true Russert seemed uncomfortable responding to a cross-examination from the defense lawyer in the Libby trial. But most reporters would feel uncomfortable in a court of law, where the legal system allows all sorts of tricks and often falls short of seeking the truth.

This, however, is no justification for Collins or Huffington suggesting that Russert is a patsy for those he interviews on the weekly Sunday Meet the Press program, the most popular of the weekend interview shows. If Russert were to show the "outrage" that Collins thinks Washington reporters should, he wouldn't have an interview program very long and viewers would lose a program that often does the public a worthwhile service.

And it certainly is not justified for Collins and Huffington to criticize Russert for saying he assumes most of his conversations outside the show with Washington politicians are off-the-record.

It is naive to think that political reporting can proceed expeditiously without many off-the-record conversations. All Russert is doing is recognizing the lay-of-the-land in Washington, in which confidential sourcing is nearly always the order of the day. It is certainly the case that Huffington, in her writing, often relies on off-the-record conversations.

I don't know Collins. Maybe, he has never been to Washington, D.C.

He is annoyed because the Cheney press aide testified that she pushed to get Cheney on Meet the Press, because it was "our best format."

This, however, did not mean that Cheney would be subject to softball questioning on the show. All it meant was that, as the most popular program, if you want to speak to the American people, it makes sense to appear on it.

Russert is a plain speaker, if usually civil, and he has been anything but easy on the Bush Administration. In recent months, he has repeatedly suggested that the Administration is in dire political difficulty, as it undoubtedly is, on the war and other issues.

If Russert was occasionally too accepting, before the Iraq war began, of the Administration's rationale for going to war, he was not exceptional among Washington journalists. Journalists, like government officials, can make misjudgments, and the Adminstration initially had powerful support inside and outside government for invading Iraq.

But to subject Russert to the lambasting Collins gave him is unjustified. As I say, this was a nasty and unprovoked attack, which can be dismissed as sniping from the hinterland by a writer who doesn't understand or sympathize with Washington reporters.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You jerk. Her name is Arianna. Get your facts right you dweeb.

2/13/2007 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a total pussy. Get a life.

2/13/2007 6:27 PM  

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