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Grieving Mr. Gotcha

by RICHARD RHAMES

“Russert always got along with the bosses at General Electric, who purchased NBC in 1986. ‘He was a beloved figure in so many areas , including with people like Jack Welch, the head of GE,’ said [Ken] Auletta….’They loved him because he was so well connected in Washington,’”

New York Observer, 6/17/08

Mr. Gotcha is gone. But he is not forgotten. As I write this on Wednesday, the papers report from Mount Saint Albans, the tony private school where the rich and famous gathered to pay their tributes to imperial flack Tim Russert. Like most of the Washington palace court, Russert sent his son to a private academy. The District of Columbia, seat and special ward of the federal government, languishes in the shadow of such towering figures as Bush, Cheney, and “Russ.” It features public schools unworthy of elites.

Since the host of Meet the Press and the NBC Washington Bureau Chief died suddenly, the media has been festooned with tearful tributes. And according to AP reports, Tuesday, “Several hundred people were in line more than an hour before the early afternoon start of the [Russert] wake… Many had never met the host of the Sunday-morning talk show. But some felt like they knew something about him, nonetheless. ‘It’s like a family member that’s gone,’ said Mary Jo Quinn…’”

“Russert was a political insider,” the AP continued, “who was known for conducting tough interviews of Washington’s most powerful politicians, yet he evoked an everyman quality that showed his blue-collar roots… ‘He walked with kings but he never forgot his roots,’ said Quinn…”

In fact, Mr. Russert maintained his carefully cultivated insider status by providing the usual hash of distractive tempests in teapots, service to the empire, and shrewd self-promotion. Fellow GE employee Tom Brokaw remembered The Russ for his tactics in “driving the news cycle.” Mr. Gotcha quickly hit on the “synergy” angle where one corporate product uses other in-house venues or products to tout itself.

Today (NBC product) producer Steve Friedman remembered, “What Tim did was so brilliant, is that he would follow up an appearance on Meet the Press by going on the Today show on Monday morning….And then he would sit there and quote his own show.” (”Tim Russert, Man of Ambition,” NYO, 6/17/08)

In an era before all media had been Foxed, his “tough questioning” began by asking Jerry Brown whether he’d appoint gay people to his cabinet if elected. Typically, his fawning interview with VP Cheney just prior to the 2003 Iraq attack featured only the kind of obsequious stroking which such war criminals have now come to expect as their due.

Russert’s wholesale regurgitation of Republican talking points on Iraq was clearly on display during the shameful February Democratic debate (number 20). He grilled Clinton and Obama —neither of whom favored expedited withdrawal from Iraq, or scaling back military adventurism — “I want to ask you both a question then, if this scenario plays out, and the Americans get out, in totality, and al Qaeda resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right, in your mind as the American president, to reinvade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?”

Mr. Gotcha, surely capable of counting, must have known that Bushian PR aside, al Qaeda is but a flea on the elephant of Iraq’s insurgency. But, as others pointed out at the time, his question might easily have been written by the White House press office. “This is, this is reality…,” he insisted to the somewhat incredulous candidates.

In January Russert had sand-bagged Mr. Obama (the “technically black candidate”), challenging him to repudiate Harry Bellafonte’s entirely rational labeling of G.W. Bush as the “greatest terrorist in the world.” Russet was keenly aware that Obama and Belafonte had things in common: Some shared genetic material and lungs for breathing air.

Of course Obama, questing for the spot of Terrorist-in-Chief himself, sternly brushed aside Belafonte’s remark and let the racist “question” slide. But as one wag suggested, he might have more properly snapped back, “Did you ask me that question because I was black? Because as I understand it, Mr. Belafonte is entitled to his opinion, and is alone accountable for it. When was the last time you asked a white Senator to account for the ravings of Pat Robertson, who unlike Mr. Belafonte, has the ear of the President and the national media?”

A month later Russert was black-baiting Obama with comments from one Louis Farrakhan during the above referenced televised debate. When something works for you, you keep doing it. Silly, mean, and “gotcha” work.

Tim Russert was a man like any other. But unlike most, by aggressive self-promotion and in the service of power he gained celebrity status even as he helped further hollow out the husk of a rumored American democratic order and rational public debate.

He worked faithfully for GE and, for a time, its ruthless CEO “Neutron” Jack Welch. The moniker stemmed from the Chief’s mindset. The so-called “neutron” atomic bomb is a “dirty” type that yields loads of radiation but relatively little explosive force. Thus it wipes out people and preserves buildings, roads, and economic infrastructure.

That’s the way Neutron Jack thought about business and society. People who worked for GE came to understand that its initials stood for “Gone Elsewhere.” In 2000 Welch was voted “manager of the century.” He’s perhaps best known for his 1999 quote that “Ideally, you’d have every plant you own on a barge,” ceaselessly moving to more desperate and obedient countries, always looking for cheaper, more expendable workers.

Tim Russert was a great asset to Neutron Jack in a mutually beneficial project. Corporate profits have seldom been higher. Gone Elsewhere’s military enterprises thrive.

The downwardly mobile must be diverted even as the barges assemble.

Tim Russert will be missed, and replaced.

RICHARD RHAMES lives in Biddeford, Maine. He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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RICHARD RHAMES is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: rrhames@xpressamerica.net

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