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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tim Russert: Our Princess Diana?

posted by on June 19 at 12:13 PM

I have a feeling that, just a few short months from now, we’re going to feel slightly embarrassed about the mawkish overkill with which we’ve greeted—excused me, grieved—the death of Tim Russert. In the same way that the Brits were embarrassed by the way they lost their collective shit over the death of Princess Diana, we’re going to look back on this outpouring and try to figure out just what it was, exactly, that was really going on here. The latest from the NYT:

In death, Tim Russert did on Wednesday what no living journalist has accomplished this campaign season: he got Barack Obama and John McCain to sit together and talk, quietly.

Specifically, it was Mr. Russert’s son, Luke, 22, who got the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees together. He requested that they sit next to each other at his father’s funeral at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown. Then, in remarks from the pulpit, he exhorted them and other politicians to “engage in spirited debate but disavow the low tactics that distract Americans from the most important issues facing our country.” At the end of the service, the two candidates embraced.

“Five months from now,” Luke Russert said a few hours later, “I wanted them to remember that this occasion brought them together.”

Gee, perhaps Tim Russert should die more often?

There are some folks out there who thought that Tim Russert wasn’t perfect. Some even thought—and dared to write—that Russert occasionally engaged in the kind of low tactics that distracted Americans from important issues facing our country. (“Timmeh!” anyone?) Now may not be the time to say so, in the immediate wake of his death, which is a tragedy and I can certainly empathize with his son’s pain. But this desire to turn Russert into some sort of universally beloved moral force for good, and the creepy emotional manipulativeness on display today, strikes me as highly bizarre and deeply unseemly.

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Meh. It's better than a Coke commercial.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 19, 2008 12:18 PM

Who is Tim Russert? A blogger?

Posted by aaa | June 19, 2008 12:20 PM

The difference is that the grief for Diana was a spontaneous and intense outpouring from the people, whereas the whole Russert thing is largely media-driven. As others have noted, the media have become so warped that they really do think that they are the story. The death of their leader is therefore a supremely important thing. I was shocked to learn about Russert's death, but I don't know anyone personally who's somehow devastated by it.

Posted by Gabriel | June 19, 2008 12:22 PM

I will long cherish the irony of his dying from the failure of the very drugs that were so often advertized by the sponsors of his programs.
Through the failure of his attempt to pharmacologically mitigate the consequences of an irresolute life, he is an icon of characteristically American decadance.
I'd do Luke by the way, but there's a short window of opportunity there, because it's obvious he's going to pork out like his late father.

Posted by kinaidos | June 19, 2008 12:25 PM

Why is Russert's death a tragedy? If he had been killed in a horrible accident at a premature age while fleeing the paparazzi, then that would be a tragedy. If he had been killed by a crazed pitbull, then that would be a tragedy.

But, he died quickly of natural causes, which is really the best that any of us can hope for. I will consider myself lucky if I go like that (er ... or not because I'll be dead, but you know what I mean).

Worth mourning? Yes. A tragedy? No.

Posted by Mahtli69 | June 19, 2008 12:27 PM

I've heard that Tim Russert's image has appeared on a tortilla in Mexico and that if you touch it, it cures everything.

Posted by seattle mike | June 19, 2008 12:29 PM

@3 gets it.

it's one of the few chances for the elite media to mythologize what they want us to believe that they do. and it's worlds away from the cocktail-party circle jerk that is reality.

Posted by brett | June 19, 2008 12:31 PM

Tim Russert also had James Carville and Mary Matalin to sit together. Two despicable sycophants who should not be allowed out of their own bedroom (which undoubtedly is mirrored from floor to ceiling).

Posted by DOUG. | June 19, 2008 12:37 PM

As I recall he also was a cheerleader for the War in Iraq early on....

Yeah, I was shocked by his death and BUT WAS FUCKING OVER IT BY 3 PM Friday....

And I am sick of MSNBC in constant mourning mode over the guy.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | June 19, 2008 12:40 PM

I'm speculating here, but perhaps the national grief over Russert's death, particularly among the media, reflects grief over the death of a certain kind of news coverage and a certain respectability in public discourse. I think we all sense, on some level, that the American empire is collapsing: two families shared the White House for 20 years, and we almost made it 28. That's definitely one of those things historians would look back on as a sign that the safety valve of electoral politics was plugged, and that an explosion was obviously soon to follow. Part and parcel of this feeling of immanent collapse is the Caligula-like excesses of the news media. As far as that goes, people like Russert and Rather and so on represent a saner, safer time.

Posted by Judah | June 19, 2008 12:42 PM

Yeah - I was sad when I heard about it...but this MSNBC coverage is freaking me out a little.

Posted by Joey the Girl | June 19, 2008 12:43 PM

The Princess Di comparison is a good one, though not enough Brits are as embarrassed by that display as ought to be. The shocker there was the Brits aren't supposed to be suckers for that kind of emo porn freakshow; but we are. Crying on TV about stuff that doesn't actually affect us in any direct way, it's what we do best.

Someone said recently "I now know more about Tim Russert's life than I do about my own", which is funny. But you know? I don't watch network news or even much cable news, and I haven't seen ANY Russert coverage. None at all, not a second of it. I don't feel like I've lost anything. I've been too busy looking up matrix numbers of old 78 RPM records.

I'll bet all those other newshounds on the other networks are PISSED that they didn't think of dropping dead first.

Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2008 12:46 PM

Meanwhile, most of America still doesn't care.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 19, 2008 12:51 PM

I was reading yesterday how Obama and McCain sat themselves next to each other at Tim Russert's funeral, and I gotta tell you that made me feel good in a totally post-cynical way. Good on Luke for making that happen.

Posted by cressona | June 19, 2008 12:53 PM

This is so often a temptation when people die, to turn them into saints. Ultimately it's a dis-service, as some of the grieving we do involves not just the good memories and qualities we observed in a person, but also the now closed conversations, the unfinished business, the weird quirky things that made them who they were, the last argument we had with them (and maybe we were right), the things yet to be forgiven, etc. When i do funerals i try to take a long time with families to hear all about the person - even dissuading them from their saint making tendencies, which they seem to want to uplift to please and impress me - i like to get them going until they forget i'm even there - reassuring them it's ok to laugh at the weird stuff, get mad at the person and even God (ever hear of the Psalms or book of Lamentations if you're a Christian or Jew - as one of my Hebrew Bible profs said so eloquently, books bitching at God), and see them as the messy person they were. We can love people even if they have faults, even if all our times toether weren't happily ever after Disney perfection. Trying to find a lesson for someone's death, too, is also ultimately demeaning for a family's grief. So 2 politicians embraced for a grieving son; nice, but guess what - they'd still rather have their Dad alive. Sometimes shit just happens; people die. Telling someone that really sucks, I'm sorry for your pain is about the best we can do. PS Can we please also stop the "God just needed an angel" crap also? I know it's hard to know what to say, but please no more of that!

Posted by dawicksta | June 19, 2008 1:02 PM

@4. Nice. That's worth repeating:

I will long cherish the irony of his dying from the failure of the very drugs that were so often advertized by the sponsors of his programs. Through the failure of his attempt to pharmacologically mitigate the consequences of an irresolute life, he is an icon of characteristically American decadance.
Posted by smiles | June 19, 2008 1:07 PM

"In the same way that the Brits were embarrassed by the way they lost their collective shit over the death of Princess Diana"

Did they? Really? You're making this up to support your point.

Posted by Non | June 19, 2008 1:08 PM

I'm sorry for his family. I'm sure they're deeply saddened.

Bummer that he died relatively young.

But seriously, the non-stop media self-flagellation is just grotesque. Other than his family, most of the rest of us really don't give a shit.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | June 19, 2008 1:13 PM

I'm gonna echo @17. Were the Brits ever embarrassed? They still seem kinda damn proud of their ability to worship someone beautiful and marginally concerned about "the unfortunates."

I'm seeming to notice a trend this year: the media wets itself over something or other, and the public largely ignores them. Anybody else picking up that vibe?

Posted by Marty | June 19, 2008 1:32 PM

A bit much? Perhaps. But your Russert envy is out of control, too. No, they won't mourn you with such fanfare when you go. But that's the career path you chose, Dan. Maybe some of your friends will throw you a 21-felch salute. But don't expect to see CNN covering a commemorative circle jerk in your honor.

Posted by Tina the Ballerina | June 19, 2008 1:34 PM

Agree w/Gabriel @3 and Fnarf @12, and especially w/brett @7.

If you, Dan, are including yourself in that "we" who (rightly) have something to feel embarrassed about, that's your problem. I was flipping channels over the weekend and Russert's death was no larger an event that you would expect it to be, outside of the mainstream media echo chamber. The cable channels and national news programs were on 24-hr all-Russert marathons, while the local news shows were just doing their regular kitten-up-a-tree stories. (Did it make the front page of either of our local dailies? I was out of town.)

I've posted this before, but, everybody!

Posted by David | June 19, 2008 1:36 PM

@17 and @ 19 Yes, in hindsight the whole Diana grieving period is a source of embarrassment for many Brits. They historically pride themselves on keeping a stiff upper lip, and the spectacle is considered unseemly and something you would expect from the Americans but not the British.

Posted by Gabriel | June 19, 2008 1:47 PM

Russert's lionization seems to be a direct result of the media's fascination with fame, which has led to the Fourth Estate selling itself to the highest bidder and doing away with its responsibility to be, you know, investigative.

Russert wasn't a great, or even a good, journalist. He just looked more sane than most while pursuing the same brass ring as everyone else. Add to that the fact that famous people don't tend to just drop dead much anymore and you get the reaction we've seen over the past week. Once we get the same reaction when people like Studs Terkel, Howard Zinn and Bill Moyers die, then we'll be getting somewhere.

Posted by reval5 | June 19, 2008 1:54 PM

Public mourning and elaborate obsequies have become a norm in the post-Diana world. funeral going as entertainment has become a national past-time. Have you noticed how large funerals for police officers who die in the line of duty have become. The last one here in Seattle required the use of Hogness Auditorium and created it's own rush hour. Road-side shrines have become so popular local municipalities are having to legislate their size and duration. People seem to enjoy being sad over the death of a stranger for a little while. Perhaps it makes them feel connected to a larger community.

Posted by inkweary | June 19, 2008 2:10 PM

@17 - I'd have to agree. It's only you Yanks that didn't care enough about Lady Di, the rest of the world was truly saddened.

Not that I counted myself among them, mind you, but it's still a seminal moment in world history.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 19, 2008 2:10 PM

Tim and Di both loved the spotlight, and were beloved by friends in the media. A cyncic would say both were whores. Di was a tragic figure married to an upper class twit, but she was also hanging around with a sleazy playboy and perhaps liked the center stage too much. Still, Di was a more truly popular figure, whereas Russert's lionization seems mostly a function of the media paying homage to someone whose stardom shows how far they've fallen since the days of Huntley, Brinkley, and (the still alove) Walter Cronkite.

Posted by Rich | June 19, 2008 2:23 PM

Dan is just jealous no one takes his rag seriously.

Posted by Jay | June 19, 2008 2:28 PM

First, I agree with #3 – this is completely media driven. NBC is covering this like it was a state funeral. Did the Pope John Paul’s funeral get this much coverage? Russert was the messenger, not the message – the reporter, not the story. After a week of nearly non-stop memorials and little other news, NBC has completely crossed over from the sad to the obsessively creepy. Matt Lauer’s interview with Tim's son, Luke, on Monday morning was so effusive and over-the-top with his concern that Luke 'really understand how much his dad loved him' (he knew), that it was a little creepy to watch what should have been a private moment played for the cameras. It was not unlike that kind of interview with the family who’s lost everything in the Midwest floods and is asked by a "concerned" interviewer how they feel. The picture that they flashed of Luke visiting the set of MTP on Sunday – the Kennedy-esq “Profiles in Courage” pose – was a blatantly manipulative tug at the viewers' heartstrings. I don't remember ABC carrying on like this when Peter Jennings died, and he was their chief news anchor for more than 20 years. Is NCB setting a precedent being for its on-air personalities? Should Willard Scott now expect any less from his colleagues at NBC when he kicks the bucket? Secondly, Bush showed up at Russert's wake and stood around for 20 minutes, but he can't show up at even one wake or funeral for a US soldier who died in Iraq as a result of his lie? As the uncle of one of the soldiers killed in Iraq, this continued snub of our fallen heroes is one of the reasons our frat-boy-President will remembered as the worst. president. ever.

Posted by James | June 19, 2008 2:45 PM

I suppose it is overkill. But I choose not to watch much tv so I don't get bent out of shape over it.

Russert was good at what he did. Better than most in the business today. Sure, today's standards in journalism are different from Cronkite's, Brinkley's, Murrow's, et al., but he was principled and prepared and fair. They miss him. He represented the best of today, what most of them aspire to be. Let them muse over his death for a while. Maybe it will inspire one or two to become better journalists.

Posted by homage to me | June 19, 2008 2:57 PM

This coming from the same Dan Savage that opted to turn his sleazy sex advice column into a memorandum for his recently deceased mother? I love you Dan, but you're being a real dick about this whole situation. People have a tendency to go overboard when those close to them die, a sin which is easily forgiven. The traditionally brutal slog commentators offered their sympathies to you; maybe you should consider doing the same for those close to Russert.

Posted by Looptid | June 19, 2008 3:03 PM
it's still a seminal moment in world history
It's WHAT?
Yeah, sure, if you're People magazine. Which is about as in-depth as you'll ever achieve, Will-o.
Lady Di was a breeding cow whose entire mission on earth was birthing sons, and was essentially useless once that was achieved. She filled the rest of her hours on earth being a media whore of the first water -- she would famously rip open the doors of journalists' cars and jump in, so she could complain about the media hounding her some more. Her charity work wasn't any deeper than her frock-wearing.
Seminal. You are such a boob, Will.
Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2008 3:09 PM

Yes, I'll echo that's it's way overblown. Are we going to endure this to greater and greater degrees when Tom Brokaw goes, how about Andrea Mitchell?

This sorrowfest outdoes the entire coverage we got for Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Peter Jennings, combined!

Posted by raindrop | June 19, 2008 3:47 PM

Would you lay off Tim Russert? He would be embarrassed about how much fuss has been made over his death.

Posted by elswinger | June 19, 2008 4:03 PM

Fnarf, you really need to visit other countries some day.

And not just for a day trip.

Yeah, it was. Even here in the US, one of my grandma's was really affected, but in Commonwealth countries, and places like France and Germany and Italy and Africa and Asia it was a really big deal.

The US ain't the world, Fnarf.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 19, 2008 4:04 PM

You're a moron, Will, you really are.

Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2008 4:13 PM

Main Entry: sem·i·nal

Pronunciation: \ˈse-mə-nəl\
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin seminalis, from semin-, semen seed — more at semen
Date: 14th century

1 : of, relating to, or consisting of seed or semen 2 : containing or contributing the seeds of later development : creative, original

Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2008 4:32 PM

when dan savage dies is going to be just as sappy with all the alt media writing how he was the voice of alt weeklies. there will be lines in cal anderson park to view his corpse and cry about all that he meant to seattle. and there will be symposiums led by local politicians on the importance of dan.

when " celebreties" die people get all goofy and they get all catholic and shit. its the way it is. even when that crook nixon died, people were all mushy. people fear death and want to glorify it and create heroes and significance out of our insingnificant existence.

Posted by SeMe | June 19, 2008 4:41 PM

Oh, wait -- I get it. You're saying your grandma cried when you ejaculated on her? That makes sense. That IS seminal, Will. I take it all back.

Posted by Fnarf | June 19, 2008 4:53 PM

@23, you're right about Terkel, Zinn, and Moyers.

And you may get your chance to find out any minute now, esp. about those first two!

They could croak at any minute. In fact, how COULD Studs Terkel still be alive? Let me go check...

Yep, still alive. Born 1912. Only four years older than Daniel "Fat Tongue" Schorr!

I thought Vonnegut's death was a little overlooked... but then again, when I go looking for his paperbacks in used bookstores and come up absolutely dry, I'm forced to confront how many decades ago the peak of his fame was, and my own advancing years. Ugh.

Posted by CP | June 19, 2008 5:21 PM

@36 - It was seminal in making Elton John even richer than he already was.

Posted by Mahtli69 | June 19, 2008 5:38 PM

A corporate hack of the highest level
(Vice President of NBC, and wholly owned division of GE), lawyer, former alter boy,

Turned him off when he was in pure glee over
Hillary loss . . .

Thanks you Jesus for calling him home

Posted by Joe Frilly-Panties | June 19, 2008 11:13 PM

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