Tim Russert, Keith Oblermann, Barack Hussein Obama, "strawman" arguments, Reverend Wright, John Kerry, George Soros, "historic" elections
The news of Tim Russert's passing has dominated the television for the past day. [Update - 6-16-08 - Debbie Schlussel comments on the endless coverage.]
Many conservatives have praised Russert and conducted themselves with more class than the left ever did at the death of a non-leftist.
I noted from watching Russert's old interview with Charlie Rose last night the real difference between Russert and someone like Keith Olbermann. Russert was not a one-trick pony. He could speak about a variety of topics with conviction and thoroughness. Olbermann seems to have nothing to talk about except for his hatred of the Republicans. Even when Oblermann hosts the NBC Sunday football program, the viewer expects that he is about to drop the football talk and explode into a "Bush is Hitler" rant. Regardless of ideology, there is more to Russert than Olbmermann or Chris Matthews or many others.
That being said, conservatives are fooling themselves if they believe Russert was unbiased or did not advocate the leftist cause. The rest of this post is necessary and is not meant to detract from our thoughts of sympathy for the family on the occasion of this untimely tragedy.
Russert's bias was much more subtle than that of most MSM/DNC employees, and therefore escaped notice by most conservatives. I know of no examples of Russert engaging in the outright lie.
Russert, instead, used the strawman(#15).
(1) Reverend Wright. In one of the last efforts of his life, Russert was recording an interview with MSNBC about Obama and this campaign yesterday. He summarized the arguments against Obama with a mythical conversation:
I remember being in Indianapolis covering the Indiana primary and a man came up to me and said he wasn’t going to vote for Senator Obama because he was very concerned about the comments made by Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor. I said, “That’s interesting. As a reporter, I’m curious what comments particularly bothered you?” He said, “Well, I can’t think of any that come to mind, but I also read on the Internet that he’s a Muslim.” And I said, “Now wait a minute. You can’t have both. You can’t be offended by his Christian minister and then say he’s a Muslim. You’ve got to pick one.”
Had this been a real conversation, Russert's nemesis would have had no trouble remembering what particularly offended him about Wright. The only people in this country who don't remember "AIDs Conspiracy Sunday, or God Damn America Sunday, or U.S. of KKKA Sunday, or the Post-9/11 America-Had-It-Coming Memorial Service" are apparently Barack Obama and Tim Russert. [And even Obama threw Wright under the bus long before Russert was apparently trying to argue, yesterday, that no one could identify what Wright had done wrong.]
And no, we don't need to choose between our legitimate reservations regarding Obama's judgment over the Wright affair and our concern with what Obama's own Kenyan brother has referred to as Obama's Muslim background. The fact remains that Reverend Wright is repellant and Obama has a Muslim background. Both facts can be and are true. Russert's strawman story cannot disprove these facts.
(2) John Kerry - 2006. Just before the 2006 elections, John Kerry insulted all American servicemen while campaigning for the Democrat congressional candidates, thus jeopardizing the Democrats' attempts to retake the House and Senate. Tim Russert attempted to ride to the rescue with an invented Kerry "apology" that explained away the insult. In this case, Russert had to invent a strawman apology from his own side in order to diffuse a problem created by John Kerry.
(3) Obama - "smears." Russert's final interview also promoted the Obama website whose stated goal is to refute "smears" against Obama. Russert alleged that Obama's opponents were going to create a new website to "spread the rumors, so that people that go to the Internet to get clarification will go to the wrong web site and get confused." Legitimate criticisms against Obama are thus dismissed as "rumors" designed to "confuse" people.
(4) Scott McClellan. Two weeks ago, Russert discussed Scott McClellan's book on the Today Show. While not explicitly endorsing or agreeing with the book, he subtly defended the book by stating "This is not Moveon.org" (George Soros' organization) even as it was being revealed elsewhere that a Soros' company published the book. While Russert may not have known of the Soros' connection, he never retracted that statement and he was eager to build up the book's credibility. In attempting to knock down a straw man argument ("moveon.org is behind this book") he accidentally hit upon the truth.
(5) Hillary - drivers licenses - the 15 year drought. Tim Russert took 15 years before he finally asked the Clintons a tough question. It was great that Russert helped Hillary trip herself up on the illegal alien/drivers license question last fall, but he waited until a more leftist viable candidate appeared on the scene. This was not a "strawman" example, but it shows that Russert is willing to be tough on the leftist standard bearer only when a more viable leftist replacement exists. Russert's toughness thus becomes the real strawman in this situation.
(6) "Historic" - Russert never explicitly said "vote for Obama." But as much as anyone else, Russert has referred to the 2008 election as "historic." Even yesterday's blurb at MSNBC states the following - "Tim Russert spent a lifetime preparing to cover the historic 2008 primary elections." As strange as that statement is, it points up the subtlety in the use of the word "historic." Russert used that word "historic" since the primaries began. Translation - a black man is going to be elected President for the first time. That is the only possible meaning of "historic" in this context. There would be nothing "historic" about a mundane Republican victory, so the continued use of that word implies that the Republicans will lose. If you don't vote for the Democrat, this election will lose its historic flavor. The use of the word "historic" allows Russert (and many others) to promote Obama without being explicit.
Russert demonstrated the most dangerous kind of bias. Everyone can ignore the raving lunatic like Olbermann. But a politician is more effective when he sits behind the news desk and refuses to endorse or openly advocate but, instead, boxes in one side with strawman arguments that take the form of "reporting" and "journalism."
The battle is not won or lost with the actual arguments pro or con. The battle is won or lost when the issue is framed. Russert framed the issues for the public, thus allowing the Democrats the simplicity of fighting strawman arguments. In the courtroom the parties begin each legal filing with an identification of the "issues" before the facts are even argued. The court accepts one lawyer's (or the other's) definition of the "issues." The party that gets to define the issues usually wins the battle - in court or in politics.
Russert was a lawyer (having graduated law school in the 1970's). It is telling that the MSM/DNC's most effective advocate was not really a journalist, but a lawyer. The MSM/DNC advocates - it does not report. Russert defined the issues, while Olbermann and others made factual arguments based on those definitions.
This is how the MSM/DNC really works. Understanding the MSM/DNC requires us to understand Tim Russert more so than we understand the more obvious leftists. Otherwise, we will be reduced to perpetually praising those who would box us in with strawman arguments.