Russert would have been able to pin down someone like the embarrassing Christine O'Donnell and reveal just how ill-conceived, empty and laughable her entire campaign is. He would have exposed many of the shallow, unsubstantiated comments Sarah Palin makes. He would have shown, by using his blown-up quotes and charts, just how little the Republican Party has actually done in the past two years to help govern the country.
It's striking how much Russert is missed right now. His approach as host of Meet the Press - which was to be armed with excellent research on his subjects and then to grill them - is simply not seen often enough in the superficial world of television political coverage today. Russert was interested in exposing the truth about a person while, at the same time, allowing that individual an opportunity to fully respond to any tough question or sensitive issue from the past.
Russert, for instance, would not have been allowed Republicans seeking re-election to the US House or Senate to get away with their record of doing nothing during President Obama's first two years in office. He would have given them their say, but then asked them, relentlessly, what they had proposed or done to improve the nation's faltering economy, for instance. Russert would have repeatedly asked Republicans why "the Party of "No" should deserve to
take over after accomplishing nothing but obstructing the President whenever it could.
I don't mean to build up Russert too much here. He had his flaws and missed his own opportunities, but, he definitely showed more interest in genuine reporting and paying attention to politicians' records and statements than the current crop of TV journalists.
I miss Russert because of that "gap." In today's crazy TV news/entertainment climate, Sarah Palin continues to receive enormous attention and is given a "standing" she does not deserve. Ever since the 2008 presidential campaign, when TV executives witnessed Palin's entertainment value and impact on ratings, they have showered her with TV coverage - whether she's making a speech or preparing her "reality show" for its debut.
What TV news producers have NOT done is pay the slightest attention to the content of Palin's remarks and her amazing lack of factual "backup" for so many of her public assertions. Palin has made so many rhetorical attacks on "big government" and the Obama administration without including facts and figures that substantiate her claims. What would Palin have done back in the winter of 2009, when President Obama inherited an incredible financial crisis and had to make hard choices to prevent the country from slipping into a depression? We don't know because TV and even print reporters never challenge Palin about these matters. I'd love to hear what Palin would have done. She probably would say she'd never have proposed such a big stimulus package. After all, that stimulus represented what typified the bad side of Big Government, she'd argue. Well, that's easy for Palin and the shallow group of right-wing candidates she supports to say. Who can't rip Big Government? Yet, if reporters would challenge her, she might have to offer alternative ideas because, in early 2009, economists from across the spectrum were advising Obama to propose a large economic stimulus package. Many recommended an even larger stimulus than the one passed by the US Congress.
So, there you go, Palin. What would you have done? You see, whenever Palin has been challenged with direct questions (like Katie Couric's relatively easy, direct questions in 2008) it seems she comes off quite poorly. She's unable to offer a thoughtful, substantive, direct response. Why is that? Doesn't that mean a great deal?
No, unfortunately, no one in the serious world of political journalism today seems to pay attention to Palin's flaws or her incapacity to grasp the hard, gray realities facing the nation's leaders. All anyone seems to care about is entertaining TV viewers. So, when President Obama started running into more serious opposition over his health care proposal, the TV decisionmakers were glad to dwell on the "winners" and "losers" in poll after poll without examining either the content of the health care proposals or just why the process got so bogged down.
The problem is that TV journalists never focus on the content! So, while they're saying "Palin said this" or "the Tea Party candidate said that," they fail badly at telling us who these people are. In fact, if they paid more attention, I'd argue they'd realize many of these people - including Palin - do not deserve any coverage at all! I'm completely serious. If a "celebrity" like Palin spouts distorted, loaded, reckless remarks, why does she deserve so much air time? Why is Christine O'Donnell still getting so much air time? She's a joke. She should quietly fade from the scene. Instead, television is so eager to inflate anything "entertaining" that the mission of news divisions has been so lost.
This national Republican Party, in 2010, does NOT deserve anything, if you ask me. They've done a disservice to the country by making it their sole purpose to hurt Obama in any way possible. Yes, I know opposition parties tend to go after opponents, but, this display of DOING NOTHING has broken any record I can recall in my lifetime. All I've heard from US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and US House Minority Leader John Boehner has been criticism of Obama. Neither offers much beyond attacks on government spending and tax cuts.
Don't get me wrong here: The Democrats deserve some criticism too, mainly for not standing up for their beliefs and opposing the baseless charges of Republicans. Many Democrats have been cowards during the past two years by choosing to let Obama take most of the criticism without trying to defend him nearly enough.
But, back to the Republicans: I'm sorry, in a time of national crisis, we should not be giving support to a Party that openly has been trying to obstruct the President at all costs while offering nothing on its own. Candidates in that Party should be opposed vigorously. Yet, the indications are that in next week's mid-term elections, the Republicans will do very well and possibly re-take the House of Representatives.
If the news media - particularly the television networks and cable news shows - spent more time focusing on truth-telling and holding people accountable - then, maybe the Republicans wouldn't do as well next week. Correction: They definitely wouldn't do as well because shining more light on the truth tends to affect these sorts of things.