How is it Obama can fill a Cabinet faster than NBC can replace Tim Russert?
One of the problems for NBC that was showcased during Russert’s media version of a state funeral in June is the way the chair of Meet the Press has become above all a Washington social and status position and only secondarily a journalistic assignment. Russert himself was not a journalist. He came from politics. His interviews either promoted his subjects or subjected them to opposition research. He was the Washington élite’s staff man, stoking their prejudices, whims, and attitudes. His regular-guy persona flattered the élite by making them imagine they were regular guys too.
NBC seems to be paralyzed by the sense that whomever they chose has to be another Russert. Not so. Russert defined an era, but that era is over. It’s as if in the months since he died the hands of the clock have spun with accelerated speed, leaving us all with a desire for reinvention. There's been an Obama effect in every sphere of business from General Motors to network TV.
Brokaw’s interview yesterday with Laura Bush—flanked as a safety measure by Afghanistan's ambassador to the U.S., Said Jawad—was exhibit A in a form of TV whose day has passed. The only things viewers wanted to know from the First Lady were (a) what medication got her through the last eight years, (b) how it felt being married to a walking catastrophe (my em), and (c) what she really thought about Michelle Obama when she came to the White House. If we really want to know about Afghanistan, is Laura Bush the first name that springs to mind? Wouldn't we rather hear from someone steeped in knowledge of the place who could advance our comprehension?
Anyway, TV isn’t about information, it’s about character—and characters. Lou Dobbs, your blowhard uncle. Bill O’Reilly, the overbearing bully at the office. Keith Olbermann, the guy who buttonholes you at the bar, makes you laugh, and then goes all serious and sincere on you. The genius of Stephen Colbert is to understand that truth about TV and carry it to its illogical conclusion.
The Meet the Press panel needs fewer David Broders and more Christopher Hitchenses—irresponsible wits who can challenge the B-list senators and warhorse commentators who trundle on and download all that sonorous received wisdom. It needs fewer "Washington insiders" and more genuinely informed outsiders. (Fareed Zakaria last week did an electric interview on his CNN foreign affairs show with the young Brit historian Niall Ferguson on the financial meltdown which was better than any slog round the course with Chris Dodd.) And for the top spot, how about going way outside the box? How about bringing in the cool forensic skills of a David Boies? Or the fresh intelligence of a web star like Josh Marshall or Glenn Greenwald? Or the political/policy smarts of a journalistic intellectual like the Guardian’s Michael Tomasky?
Ms. Brown has another pick or two. Go see.
She's right about Press the Meat needing to come into the 21st century as well. The era that spawned it and the other Sunday BS-fests is no more.