Coffee-fueled thoughts on Russert and the MSM

June 15, 2008 by susan
Tim Russert

Not just another pretty face.

I'm probably the only one around the Clothesline who's going to shed a tear for Tim Russert. And it seems to be my besmirched little pew here at the CLB to defend the MSM. (See comments on the previous post.)
So, first Tim, then the MSM.
On Sundays, my husband goes to church and I go to the morning talkies. I generally surf between Stephanopoulos and Russert, depending on what guest is appearing where, or which host has pissed me off more. For awhile I abandoned Russert due to his steady stream of Republicans -- a girl can only take so much of Lindsey Graham and John McCain -- and the insufferable Mary Matalin and James Carville punditing afterwards. Then Steph lost me, probably for good, thanks to his inane questions during the final so-called Clinton-Obama debate. When that's over, I read the NYTimes, but more on that later.

There was something in Russert that I couldn't help but like. His face squished into his lopsided head without a hint of handsome, but with a kind of bright-eyed intensity that we rarely see on the usual TV talkers. To some, and some who hang out here, I know he coddled the liars and let too many of the gas bags rise when he should have jabbed them with a sharp stick, but there were also many moments when he played their own words back at them and asked them to explain how they were for it before they were against it, whether it was McCain on abortion or Kerry on Iraq.
And there was something honest and touching to me in his relationship with his father, his blue-collar rust-belt past, his unapologetic love of major league sports, and his unabashed pride in his son. He always struck me as a decent hard-working guy who got to where he was due to that decency, along with his intellect, and not on good looks or palavering.
And he loved the Boss -- who last night, on tour in Europe, dedicated Thunder Road to him. And he was only 58. And I'm sad to see him go.

As for the MSM, like Barb, it about killed me to be at the DFL convention in Rochester and not at the conference here in Mpls. And everyone I know who was at the conference was blown away by the energy and the power they felt. When I came back from Mayo-land I felt like I did in 1969 when I came back from camping on the California coast and learned that I'd missed Woodstock.

That said, I have always argued that we on the left, and we who love the blog-o-sphere and on-line news, are still dependent in some big ways on the staffing and reporting of the biggies. Yes, the Times was a "willing and compliant" press in the rush to war, and there are problems and glitches and oversights galore, not all of them by accident, and the conglomerate news empires are NOT part of a healthy democracy. But much of what even the very biggest and best blogs do is reacting to the news they get from the MSM. The blogs may ferret out the truth or shade the truth, and make missing connections and report on things heard from other sources, all of which is important, but someone needs to convince me that without the MSM the blogs could do a thorough job of covering the daily events of the world on their own. Maybe if I'd gone to the conference I'd have a better understanding of this.

But in the old days, when the MSM wasn't so consolidated and we had more independent journalists, were were we getting more pure news? Were we getting the whole story, uncensored or uncolored by the publisher/owner's interest? Somehow, I don't think so.

During the Vietnam war, just about everyone tuned in to Walter Cronkite, who very quickly made it clear what a deadly folly that war was. Is the reason there is no Cronkite now because of consolidation, or because of the opposite, the rise of cable news and many other sources of news? So, some people tune into Fox news and xxx and others to MSNBC and Keith Olberman. And we got lucky with Cronkite. We might have had a Fox-y kind of guy who would have seen that war in a McCain-Lieberman sort of way

Not saying I love the job the MSM is doing, and everyone who sees the Star Trib in death throes knows that it's hardly doing the job at all any more. (And rumors are afoot of a possible local buyout, adios Chris Harte.)

But in some ways the MSM reminds me of my local independent book seller, or my family-owned computer store. People go there to handle the goods, read the book jackets, play with the newest computer widgets, get advice, and then go home and make their purchase on-line. The local guy has to fund the overhead of a store and a staff, all to our benefit, but the on-line guy, with almost zero overhead, gets the sale.

I know today's MSM is hardly a struggling little independent book seller. I know that I sound old and stuck, lacking in vision. But there's a lot in a newspaper like the NYTimes that I still like, and that I'll never get from a blog, whether it's Science Times, or the Sunday Magazine or parts of the paper that have nothing to do with, gasp, politics or the war. I like to read about food, music, film, art and yes, people.
And, I'll zip it after this, but I think Neal Justin has a point. We on the left are just as guilty as those on the right of talking to our own kind and not listening to others. It makes us feel good to be among people who think like we do. And of course, the difference between us and those on the right is, we're right. As in, correct.

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paul miller (not verified) | June 15, 2008 - 5:50pm

it's like asking the oil companies (how bout that $4 / gal. gas, huh??) to debate alternative energy sources - the big corporate interests have already killed the electric car once, why not let them neuter any debate about electric cars now? --- of course the mainsteam media is a player, they gave us the war that has cost 1 million lives and 600 billion and counting and they're fixing to give us John McCain against every instinct of the world regarding our very own survival, but hey if you get tired of the non-political parts of the NY Times for diversion you can read the recently added William Kristol who offers a nice counter balance to the left, who just wants to listen to the opines of that legendary lefty, Dan Rather


susan | June 17, 2008 - 1:19pm

Maybe we should distinguish a bit when we say, MSM. There's Fox MSM and there's McGlatchy MSM and some other small papers still out there doing good work. Also, Moyers appears on PBS, which is pretty MSM itself these days. It's the lumping them all together that I find unfair.

I agree that the corporate conglomeration of the media is the death knell for our beleaguered democracy, and that the conference addressed that and other sins of the MSM brilliantly. I'm just not ready to toss out the baby with the bath water. I know about Kristol in the Times, and Krauthammer in the Strib and so on. It sucks. I also know that the papers are under huge pressure on many fronts, including financial, and in the Bush years they caved to charges of "liberal bias" and went out of their way to prove otherwise, thus Kristol in NYTimes, Rove in Newsweek and so on.
Tell me, what do you propose? The end of the NYTimes and a world of bloggers? Or a reformed NYTimes and reformed cable news, owned by a variety of smaller interests? This isn't a rhetorical question, I'm curious. Did the media conference coalesce around some vision for the ideal media in an ideal world? What would that be? When I think about it, I'm not quite sure what my own vision would be. No newspapers? All on-line? I'm not sure.


paul miller (not verified) | June 17, 2008 - 10:36pm

I think we are looking at this from different perspectives, you are looking at it from a holistic, what is a newspaper vs. other sources of news and I am looking at it from the perspective of mainstream news sources claiming to cover news but slanting or ignoring news as they see fit to tell the story as they want it to be told
I do not think the NY Times is capable of reforming their news coverage, they are committed to telling the story in a fashion that promotes the goals of our government and their revenue is based on advertising, which drives the bus, I don't have a vision for the media exactly but I listen to DemocracyNow everyday, watch Keith Oberman, avoid Don Shelby et al. and try to discern the NY Times' bias when I do read that paper.