Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Personal Asides: Pul-e-e-e-e-z-e, MSM! Russert’s Death Not the End of the World!...Romney’s a Joke-Teller: Did You Know That?



Let me tell you, mainstream media know how to mourn one of its own. When was the last time we were called upon to cry—the death of Peter Jennings? Remember how they groaned about Jennings? Movie-star handsome, superb phrasing, almost like an Oxford don, belying the fact that he was a high school dropout from Canada. How, oh how, can we ever survive without Peter Jennings?

Now NBC has upstaged Jennings’ death by planting an empty chair on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, scheduling a memorial at Washington’s Kennedy Center, grilling Tim Russert’s heat specialist on why he hadn’t ordered a bypass when they knew his heart was enlarged and he diabetic, bringing his son Luke in for an interview on the “Today” show with a spate of future stories on who will take over his assignments on NBC. You know, Russert was not the finest political reporter of our era basis his experience as a political operative—because he was to the point of his death a consummate liberal Democrat, which showed. And he was responsible for only one innovation in TV journalism and that not entirely unpredictable. In fact you wondered why it took so long. The innovation was, believe it or not, Russert’s playing TV tapes of pols’ past statements and then grilling them on it.

Not all that stunning, no? By his own acknowledgment, he studied the founding master of “Meet the Press,” Lawrence E. Spivak and decided the conservative Spivak was correct in giving everyone who appeared on his show a tough time, from Robert A. Taft to Hubert Humphrey. Spivak was only one panelist on the original show—given the role of asking the first question of a guest which was usually a doozy. But Russert moved the program from a panel show to concentration of himself asking the questions. Me, I preferred the old format, the panel show…because it featured such superb interrogators as Peter Lisagor of the Chicago “Daily News,” Clark Mollenhoff of Cowles, a sweet looking little old lady with her hair in a bun, May Craig, southern-born but Washington columnist for the Maine-based Gannett newspapers.

Rather than glimpse other questioners as in the past, Russert staged the program around himself and thus built a personal fan club. But I never believed he improved the program, nor do I believe for a minute that he was one of the best political TV reporters in all U. S. history—an accomplished one in our era, certainly…but even then, only ahead of some of his competitors by scant points—and behind at least one other.

He was distinctly below Huntley-Brinkley with Huntley’s establishmentarian views and David Brinkley’s wry, superbly intuitive observations. Russert did ace his reputation as a barbed questioner but his questions usually only dwelled on the inconsistencies all politicians have. You never saw him, for example, duplicate Charlie Gibson’s brilliant knowledge of economics…or make the salient contribution that Gibson did when in the Democratic debate, he questioned Obama for his economic views. You could see Obama’s eyes widen when Gibson nonchalantly cornered him on supply-side theory and you discovered that the presidential candidate billed as insuperable had never heard that it is possible for revenue to roll into the treasury by lowering taxes rather than raising them. With that one interview, Gibson gave us a glimpse of Obama’s vulnerabilities far more than Russert’s “gotcha” questions that centered only on the political horserace.

Frankly, I always had a bone to pick with Russert although I cannot do it now that he is dead. When I was a Nixon aide, I got to know the counselor to the president on domestic affairs reasonably well—Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Moynihan worked for Nixon because he was going through a great reappraisal of his philosophy, leaving liberalism and becoming conservative. I saw that as we talked. Moynihan was, after all, for all his Harvard gloss, a blue-collar product of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen who had the perspicacity to see the faux nature of 1960s liberalism. In fact, after he left public service he joined Irving Kristol and others in “The Public Interest” magazine where he was one of the pioneer new-born conservatives of his era.

When Moynihan decided to run against Bella Abzug for the Senate everybody knew it would be a tough race, between an authentic neo-conservative Democrat of the Henry Jackson school and a radical feminist. I got my PAC and company chairman to pour dough into Moynihan. He won narrowly. When he went to Washington, he took along Russert as his press guy and later made Russert his administrative assistant. What I hold against Russert is this: Moynihan had the talent and following to be an outstanding legislator of the old, centrist Democratic party, especially on social issues. Moynihan was an Irish Catholic and was pro-life. It was Russert, another Irish Catholic but a born pragmatist whose only goal was to placate the mob, who convinced Moynihan to go with the liberal herd and be a pro-abort.

I followed Moynihan’s senate career closely because Quaker Oats had a huge installation in New York state—the Fisher-Price toy company. So when I tell you Moynihan could have been reelected and easily without caving in to the pro-aborts, I mean it. He had a following in New York that would have stayed with him had he determined to be a man of courage and adhere to principle on social issues.

But Russert was evasive, hesitant and timid, fearing that a primary opponent would knock Moynihan off. Nonsense. Russert belong ed to the same old Richard M. Daley style where a politician could win by 60 percent but by selling his soul could edge it up to 62 percent so what you do is sell your soul. Selling out didn’t mean that much to Russert: in fact, it meant nothing at all. It DID to Moynihan but Russert dogged him into making that error. That’s what Russert had Moynihan do. Result: Moynihan, in my view anyhow, never did become the Democratic leader he could have been and carved a new legacy for his party in the center-right.

Blame Moynihan but also Russert for that. Consummate pragmatist. Fooey. The task of a great pol is not just to win…but to win by selling as little of your principles as you can. With Russert you sell out to win and that was it. Moynihan knew better when I talked to him privately. Knew better and for the last few years of his life he resorted to the bottle—an alcoholic no one really knew how bad he was…trying, I think, to make himself forget that he had sold his principles out on the altar of pragmatism. Do I exculpate Moynihan and blame Russert entirely for this? No, Moynihan was, after all the senator. But Russert was the Iago.

The only time Moynihan broke free from Russert’s advice was to oppose partial birth abortion, calling it, truly, “infanticide.” So I’m sorry he’s dead and all but don’t talk to me about Tim Russert. He never, ever, made the contribution to clarification of thought that Charlie Gibson did with that one magic moment where he gave Barack Obama a lesson in economics.


I never, ever thought of Mitt Romney as a funny man, a good joke teller but I guess on the campaign trail he WAS. When Fred Barnes came into town yesterday to speak at the Chicago session of the Heritage Foundation he raved about Romney’s droll sense and excellent story-telling proclivity. Really—did you ever imagine that?

Here’s one Romney told that struck me as very funny. I hope I can tell it as well as Barnes did imitating Romney telling it.

A guy was celebrating his 50th birthday by taking his wife of the same age to Palm Beach. They were strolling on the beach when they came upon the inevitable bottle washed up by the ocean. He picked it up and saw a tiny figure of a beautiful Geni inside who was pleading: “Let me out!” He pulled the cork and she filtered out, growing in size until she stood next to them a beautiful Geni. She said: “In return for what you have done to free me, I’m going to give both of you—you and your wife—a wish each. Anything you want.”

The wife went first. She said: “You know, when I was at the British Museum last year I saw those gorgeous jewels that Queen Victoria wore—an emerald necklace, diamond tiara, rings of exquisite beauty that cost millions. That’s what I would like.”

The Geni said: “It shall be done” and immediately his wife was decked out in the jewels—rings, tiara, necklace.

Then the Geni turned to the husband and asked: “What can I do for you?”

He blushed and said: “You know, I shouldn’t say this in front of my wife like this—but aw heck, I will. I wish I had a wife 30 years younger than I.”

The Geni said: “It shall be done.”

And immediately he was 80 years old.


  1. more newsworthy than Gerald Ford. Russert got more air-time and tributes than most Presidents.

    The media - what fresh hell is this? As Dorthoy Parker might ask.

  2. Lovie's LeatherJune 18, 2008 at 6:35 PM

    We knew the media was going to have this big thing, simply because of the unexpectedness of the death. Let them have it. And... Romney is still kind of a snooze, even if he could tell a joke or two. I bet you want him to get the VP nod just to anger Judy Baar. Yeah, probably...

  3. Yes, I know that it's not considered polite to do so, but I get uneasy when a public figure passes without being the subject of some criticism and Russert was no exception. Tom, your comparison of Russert to Charlie Gibson really nailed it down. I remember the old panel format on the pre-Russert Meet The Press and wish that it would be brought back.....but I'd also like to see (and hear) Gustav Holst's "Song of the Blacksmith" revived as the theme song for ABC's "Issues and Answers".....ooops, I mean "This Week with George Stephawhatsisname...." Well, sadly, neither of those things are going to happen. In fact, I have heard scuttlebut that Katie Couric may replace Russert as host of MTP. Oh brother!!!!

  4. You know the line you were told...

    "He will be more conservative than his Father".


    You pulled for him when the vote was close. You applauded the Supreme Court decision to put him in. You stood by him and his Patriot Act when 911 came. You supported his war in Iraq. You believed that "free trade" was good for America. You thought low interest rates would bring out the best in people. You believed that America's best years were ahead of her. You believed that immigration what ever the source was a hallmark of American success. You believed that a free Iraq would bring lower oil prices. You are a Conservative Republican. YOU BELIEVED GEORGE BUSH!

    AND WHAT A SUCKER YOU WERE! You just watched and sucked on the ice as George Bush and his pals steered the ship of state into the iceberg and ruined the Republican Party before your eyes and opened the door wide to the blessed St. OBAMA as President!

    Oh what a devine sucker you were! What a naive stooge you were!

    And what fools the Republican Party have become. Move over George Ryan, make room for George Bush!

    Tell THAT to your hoodwinked children and over burdened grandchildren, TOM! Look in the mirror and tell them the story of your role in it all,

    you.. the most brilliant of Chicago Conservative intellects!

    Nero and you have a lot in common, Tom.

  5. Either of them are better men than the democrats they ran against.

  6. Like George Ryan wrecked the Republican
    party in Illinois, George Bush has wrecked the Republican Party at the national level.

    George Bush and his gang should be in prison next to Ryan. But then Bush will
    probably pardon the rat, Ryan!

    He could not have done a better job to
    pave the way for the ultra liberal Marxist Obama. George Bush deserves our scorn Leon. But he will be rewarded with a taxpayer funded pension.

    Never has there been a Republican who has squandered so much. And to his rancid Neo-Con friends like Scooter et al
    ... a hearty middle finger salute to them all!

    But then they were probably
    in bed with the ultra leftists like
    Streisand, Lear, Soros, Feinstein, Feingold, Levin, etc. the whole time
    anyway. Talk show host, Michael Savage, has been harsher than me with good cause with these people! He has
    pointed out again and again how the Bush gang are frauds in the true Conservative and Republican sense.

    Bush himself said,
    "wouldn't it be nice, Bush Clinton, Bush Clinton". Now he probably says, wouldn't it be glorious Bush Clinton, Bush Obama".

    And the Social Conservatives were played for dupes, stooges, and suckers!