Tim Russert was revered inside the Beltway. When the former “Meet the Press” host died suddenly in 2008, there was no shortage of tributes from his fellow Washingtonians.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) hailed Russert as the “pre-eminent journalist of his generation” and then-Sen. Barack Obama asserted that there “wasn’t a better interviewer in television.”
Russert’s star-studded funeral at the Kennedy Center figured prominently in Mark Leibovich’s best-selling book, “This Town.” Throughout the book, Leibovich referred to Russert with a nickname befitting of his social stature in Washington: “The Mayor.”
It’s safe to say Glenn Greenwald doesn’t share This Town’s affection for The Mayor.
In an interview with GQ published Monday, Greenwald, whose book on the Edward Snowden revelations will be released this week, had some tough words for Russert and the rest of the Sunday morning talk show crew.
You call out a few other names in this book, including David Gregory and Tim Russert. Why are these guys targets in your mind?
I think most TV journalists, like all those Sunday-talk-show hosts like David Gregory and Bob Schieffer and George Stephanopoulos, to a lesser extent—the whole kind of dynamic of those Sunday shows is to ensure that the most powerful people come on their shows, which they accomplish by giving them a platform to basically spew what they want in an unchallenged manner. I mean, there’s the appearance of adversarial questioning, but it’s all very reverent.
You write that when Cheney wanted to get his message out, he’d go on Meet the Press.
Right, and that was with Tim Russert, who was depicted as hard-nosed. You know, like everyone was petrified of him. When he died, Lewis Lapham described him as the overaccommodating head waiter at some really swanky restaurant who’s just really good at ass-kissing every rich person who comes into the door. And that was Tim Russert—which is why they all loved Tim Russert, right? Because the benefit of Tim Russert was that not only did he let them control the message, but he cast the appearance that they were subjected to really rigorous questioning. So it was the extra bonus of propagandizing while convincing the public that they weren’t being propagandized. And so I think all those TV hosts do that, and I think that most major newspapers are incredibly deferential to high-level government officials, and especially to military and intelligence officials.
It’s nothing Greenwald hasn’t said before. Writing for Salon in late-2008, Greenwald took aim at David Gregory, Russert’s successor, for saying it wasn’t his “role” to call out a politician’s dishonesty.
“Indeed. Perish the thought that a reporter should point out when government officials are making ‘bogus’ claims and are lying a country into a war,” Greenwald wrote. “That is ‘not their role,’ says the New Tim Russert (and, unsurprisingly, the Old Tim Russert wholeheartedly agreed).”
Greenwald said in 2009 he found it “almost oxymoronic” that Russert “was constantly held up as the symbol of what an adversarial journalist would be.”