“Feels like the
country’s biggest game is about to be played without the referee.” –
Elizabeth Wilner, posted on the “Missing Russert” Facebook group.
AS MODERN JOURNALISM LAY near death, with its
entertainment-driven news, pomp and punditry, Tim Russert was its life support.
Now, with Russert gone, we can only wonder how long journalism can go on.
Russert’s ability to hold an entire profession together was
never fully noticed or appreciated. But as reporters, broadcasters, colleagues
and competitors flooded the airwaves in the hours after Russert’s death from a
heart attack, the void left by Buffalo’s
favorite son was painfully obvious.
There was Keith Olbermann, the antithesis of objective
journalism, talking to his partner in polemics Chris Matthews about Russert’s
objectivity and dedication to his craft.
There was Wolf Blitzer and Larry King from CNN, saying all
the right things but looking lost, as if without Russert the nation would have
to turn its lonely eyes to them for its political coverage – the thought of
which scared them to death.
Certainly Russert can never be replaced, but there’s no one
left in television news that is even in the same league. It was as if Paul
McCartney had died, and the only people left to deliver the eulogies were Miley
Cyrus and Right Said Fred.
Olbermann’s tribute was beautiful and heartfelt to be sure,
but the real proof of Russert’s impact will come when Olbermann tapes his next
edition of “Countdown.” Will he, as Russert did, learn everything he can about
his guests’ positions and then take the other side? Will he use his obvious
intellect to inform us or just keep us pissed off?
And will Matthews, on his next “Hardball,” let his guests
finish a complete sentence? Will he, as Russert did, force politicians to go
beyond their well-practiced sound bites?
Will anyone – can anyone – remember Russert through their
actions and not their words? Or with Russert’s passing has the plug been pulled
on journalism, on objectivity and discourse forever.
I want to say yes to the latter. I want to just give up on a
profession that, save for a few serious journalists, gave up on itself a long
But that wouldn’t befit Tim. This was a Bills fan after all
– he was a man who always believed in the next play, the next game, the next
Russert was the true definition of a citizen journalist. His
questions were ours, and he never forgot for whom he worked. His authenticity,
unlike that of so many of his contemporaries, was unimpeachable.
Journalism changed and Russert survived. The question now is
whether journalism will survive without the likes of Tim Russert.