The Medium is the Message

The whole "Prominent Beltway Figure Isn't All He's Cracked Up to Be" genre is often a tired one, but I have to say I enjoyed Paul Waldman's Tim Russert takedown. Still, I'm inclined to agree with Michael Brendan Dougherty:

My only problem with Waldman's piece is that it assumes "broadcast journalists" could (or once did) serve an important function as journalists. I can't think of any major broadcast figure who was lauded for his reporting. Instead they are all hailed from on high for possessing a quality. Jennings was dignified. Williams is warm. Murrow was authoritative. Brokaw was chewing on taffy. We should admit to ourselves that the Sunday Talk Shows are less entertaining versions of Conan O'Brien for people convinced that television can edify them, or educate them about current events.

I can think of some exceptions to this rule, but basically, the point holds: TV is a spectacularly bad medium for serious exchanges about politics. It's a very good medium, on the other hand, for political theater, which is why people like Russert - who's skillful at creating the "gotcha" moment, and great at playing the "guy from Buffalo who makes the powerful people nervous" - succeed in it. And complaining about the unwarranted respect he gets somewhat misses the point: Russert isn't a successful television personality because Reader's Digest and Howie Kurtz fawn all over him; they fawn all over him because he's a successful television personality, and his mix of superficial depth and deep superficiality is crucial to his appeal.

(The same goes for Jon Stewart, not incidentally, whose famous anti-Crossfire rant was itself just part of a schtick that runs as much toward superficiality - albeit of a liberal rather than bipartisan variety - as the show he was railing against.)