Meet the Press Panel with Eugene Robinson, David Brooks, Gwen Ifill, John Harwood, and your host, Tim Russert. April 15.
I'VE never been a big fan of Ifil's, largely because of what's happened to the once-glorious Washington Week, which doubtless isn't all her fault, but after a shaky start yesterday she looked up and calmly squeezed off two rounds, one hitting Russert, the other Brooks, right between the eyes.
She was talking about the silence that had greeted the issue in a lot of media quarters, and she pointedly mentioned that neither Tim nor Dave had written a word about it (discreetly leaving out Russert's appearance as part of the Alibi Parade on Imus' show). It didn't faze Tim, who at this point probably can only be felled by a silver bullet, plus one for every NBC vice-president; he continued to act, unsurprisingly, as defense attorney--it took him ten minutes to work in that Imus "as you know" had been inducted into the Broadcasters' Hall of Fame (say it ain't so, Don!). Brooks, though, was visibly peeved, whether at the criticism of a brother journalist, or at being called out personally for something, or at the fact that under the circumstances he couldn't respond to a black woman, I don't know. (Brooks had already offered in his own defense that, although he'd appeared on the show "about a half dozen times" it "was like C-SPAN", and he never listened to it except for the five minutes before he went on air.)
So I was busy making a mental list of the public figures whose shows I've never been on, to whom I've volunteered less than five minutes of my life in toto, but about whom nevertheless I could still crank out a decent biographical entry, list of political affiliations and alleged sexual proclivities, and a brief overview of arrest record, if any, just by osmosis, when Ifil smacked him. And it dawned on me (I'm a very slow learner) that Brooks' passive-aggressive, third-chair-trombone, petulant simpering functions precisely the way George Eff Will's bowtie does.
But providing the halt and lame with insights of no practical value whatsoever, or delivering "reality" show schadenfreude to the middle-aged shut-in is not what NBC News is in business for. So tell me Why are we watching this? Is Tim Russert not sufficiently intertwined with Imus to give him the week off? I understand that it was necessary to keep up the illusion of being a journalist during the Libby business, but this? The man wasn't even trying to be subtle about it--with his buddy already irretrievably down the crapper the Meet the Press panel was there to be steered into a game of How Many Ways Can We Excuse Tim Russet's Shameless Record of Self-Promotion and Cross-Pollution?
Let me back up for a moment. Here, verbatim, is how Timmy introduced Ifill:
(TO BROOKS): But he also would say he's equal opportunity. And I, got, one who went on a, ah, a lot on Imus, poked fun at for being Irish, for being Catholic, for a whole lot of a' oth...for being "husky", as my mother would say.
But, Gwen Ifill, yours truly, most of the major people at NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN, PBS, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, New Yorker, and yet you write this:
"Why do my journalistic colleagues appear on Mr. Imus' program? That's for them to defend and others to argue about. I certainly don't know any black journalists who will."
No, I didn't leave out the verb there, and yes, I've been assured that English sentences still pretty much require one. Timmy had to glance at his notes in the middle there to make sure he'd included everybody, so what was he trying to say? That the whole laundry list of journalistic insider Washington had condemned Imus? Or simply weighed in? If so, how'd he wind up (first!) on that list? He joined the celebrity Moderately Hate the Sin, Really, Really Love the Sinner and Everything He's Done For the Disadvantaged Over the Years testimonial breakfast in Imus' Last Days. Is he trying to tell us now that behind the scenes he was among the NBC heroes telling the brass it was Them or Imus? Sure he was. That's why he just got done comparing Imus calling a group of strangers dirty whores with the gladhanding bonhomie of one of Imus' Drunken Irishman jokes. Why are we watching this? Were they afraid that a guest host might put up an insufficient defense of Timmy?
It didn't get any better (sorry, I should have warned you to sit down first). There was the distinct seam-side-out quality that comes from the desperate need to change a subject and the Steer Left and Pray approach to channelling bad news about yourself into an acceptable harbor. Ifill acquitted herself well, noting that Imus-friendly Newsweek, e.g., had kept mum until the suspensions were announced, and Robinson answered the But There's Not A Racist Bone In His Body defense with "You don't have to wear a sheet to be a racist." I wonder when he'll be asked back? In fact, I've always been an irregular and indifferent viewer of Meet the Press in the Russert era, but I think I'll start taping it to see when Gene and Gwen turn up to discuss something other than a Black Issue.
The White Guys tried to shoehorn in Howard Stern and satellite comedy radio (Brooks, who said "I have X-M Radio" which he apparently scans for foul-mouthed comedy bits, and which is why he had no time to realize what Imus was up to), and Al Sharpton and The Daily Show (Harwood, who added an unnamed right-wing minister's brotherly love for Sharpton as a praeteritio--not to worry, Timmy was standing by with "Hymietown" and Tawana Brawley) without much success. It was left to Russert to cut across three lanes at the last minute in order to just make the wrong exit:
Now, Gene Robinson, the discussion, debate, has moved to rap music, hip-hop music...
Really? How's that, Tim?
In today's New York Daily News...
Today's New York Daily News. Proudly Driving the Public Debate Since Early This AM.
Excuse me if I'm just waking up from a coma without knowing it, but Why are we watching this? Haven't we been having that public debate over "rap music, hip-hop music" for the last twenty years? If you'll be so kind as to point me to where the debate over racist, sexist, and homophobic language on talk radio has been taking place during that time? NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX, CNN, PBS? Or, my guess, in an Alternate Fucking Universe?
You don't want me to follow up on Five Middle-Aged People discuss Timbaland--"I must have missed that one, yuk, yuk, yuk"--do you? Good.