by Max Brantley
This Nation writer will never be invited to dinner in Washington again.
You'll pardon me if I don't jump on the pyre the media is building for Tim Russert, who died of a heart attack June 13. You'd never know it from the keening all over television, but as Dick Cheney's press aide testified during the Scooter Libby trial, Russert's show was the place the Bushies loved the most for "getting their message out." Especially during the homicidal and suicidal Iraq war. And especially for the Vice President, who was architect of the Administration's foreign policy.
That's not all. There's a sharp observation on the proposition -- promoted by Russert himself -- that if you could successfully pass an appearance on his show, you were ready for prime political time.
In fact, the Russert Test was exactly backwards. The better our leaders performed on Meet the Press, the worse their foreign policy seemed to be. Tough: tough. It sounds the same, right? But it's not the same. The political leaders who did the best answering Tim Russert's questions in the last seven years--Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell--are the authors of the most disastrous American foreign policy since the Vietnam War, and maybe since 1776.
The Russert Test was a disaster because it rewarded people willing to lie unabashedly on TV. They lied because they could not truthfully defend their positions. But Russert's famed "gotcha" research couldn't catch them. Much has been said this eulogizing week about Russert's hard-working ways assembling the material in advance of the show. Old metal. When someone told a new lie on Meet the Press, such as when Dick Cheney flat-out denied he had ever said that intelligence confirmed the Al Qaeda/Iraq link, Meet the Press had no procedure for producing the contrary evidence. This would hardly have been difficult, given Google, an earpiece and a producer to do instant research. As it happened, NBC had the rebuttal to Cheney's lies in its own archives, but it remained for The Daily Show to do the research.
Since MTP was always looking back, the Bush Administration had a big advantage. Their new lies to Meet The Press were halfway round the world while The Daily Show was putting its boots on.
PS -- More extensive analysis from Daily Howler today.