In the wake of Tim Russert's I've noticed among a lot of my journalistic friends an enormous amount of introspection and self-assessment, even among those who, like me, did not know Tim well. It is a perfectly appropriate to remark upon and even to criticize, the fact that the media treats a death in its family like a death in its family. But Tim's death seems to have hit the Washington political community by an order of magnitude greater than the passing of a loved one.
Here is one reason why I think that this is so, and it has to do with the general esteem that professional political journalists of all stripes have for themselves in relation to their profession. The truth is that most of us -- well, maybe I'll just speak for myself, but I think it this opinion is common -- are exquisitely aware of how our journalism doesn't always live up to our standards; how it can debase the debate discourse than enhance it; how it can magnify idiotic side stories and render as insignificant the most pressing questions of the day.
There were a lot of folks in town, and I consider myself one of them to some degree, who emulate Tim Russert consciously and conspicuously. Tim Russert -- as Tim Russert -- helped to build and sustain the professional bearings and even the confidence of many political journalists because he got it right. He did it right. (It can be done right!) We loved Tim's method and style -- and not only his method and style, but also the notion that esteem for him was near universal (and so it could also be for us) -- and that he was able to enjoy the game of politics without guilt and still be a figure of enormous respect. The fact that one guy was capable of getting it more or less right... gave a lot of us hope that we might one day be able to cover politics meaningfully, too.
So, take that hub of hope away, and a good part of many political journalists in down just froze. When Peter Jennings, whom I did know, passed away, this same paralysis took hold. Eventually, it broke, and some ABC News staffers I know began to hold themselves to higher-order standards as a way of honoring PJ's memory and making sure that his standards did not die with him.
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