Friday, June 20, 2008

They Liked Him, They Really Did

I'm really not one to bash the recently dead, but I don't know why. I mean, why is it that we can bash the living as much as we want, and we have no problem bashing people who died many years ago, but somebody who died in recent years must be spoken of with reverence and respect? Is it that we just want to make sure they won't come back as a ghost to haunt us? Or in case a zombie potion might rain down upon a cemetery, we're trying to make sure we're nice to the younger ones who haven't decomposed enough to weaken them?

Sure, lots of folks talk about how it has something to do with the dead not being able to defend themselves, but many of these same people have no trouble attacking the shit out of living people who aren't able to defend themselves, and actually prefer it that way. Conservatives don't want Obama and his wife to be able to defend themselves against their unfair smears any more than we want Bush and Cheney to be able to defend themselves against the fair attacks we make against them. And anyone who's seen a hostile guest on Bill O'Reilly's show knows that he didn't invite them on to defend themselves. He just wanted them as strawmen he could verbally abuse. And then there are celebrities like Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan, who serve as gossip fodder for every tabloid journalist on the planet, simply because these girls succeeded at their goal of being entertainers. And one of the worst things a celebrity can do is to fight back against our tabloid tendencies, as that's the surest way to be mocked endlessly. So why are we protecting the dead in ways we deny to the living?

And let's not forget that, as an atheist/agnostic, I don't really think the dead are anything but empty bodies. So you'd think that if anyone needed protection, it'd be the living who actually have a real stake in all this. And hell, if Heaven is the magnificent place Christians say it is, you'd think the dead would have something better to do than be concerned with what we said about them. And the people who didn't make it into Heaven would probably have more pressing matters to attend to than what Doctor Biobrain is saying about them. Or so I'd think.

Letting the Dead Rest

But while I don't really understand the logic of paying respect to the recently dead, it does kind of make sense to me, and so I go along with it. Besides, I'm not one to hold grudges, and only speak ill of people as much as is necessary to make my point. And since the dead don't really have any real influence on what's going on in the world, I'm fine with letting them rest in peace.

And so while I didn't have the highest opinion of Tim Russert, I'm not going to sit here and bash the guy now that he's dead. Of course, I just did a search of my blog and see that, of all my years of blogging, I only mentioned Russert in two posts. One was mocking him for a "mindnumblingly silly pseudo-religious wankfest" he wrote in Newsweek, and in the other I referred to him in passing as a "GOP-fluffer" in a post attacking the idiot Cal Thomas. But the point wasn't to smear the guy. As usual, I was making a broader point about the media in general, and using Russert as the current example of the problem we have with them.

But that's all water under the bridge now, and I have no reason to say anything ill of the guy. I'm sure he meant well, and if the shoe was on the other foot, I'm sure I'd have done the same things he did. He might not have been the best qualified to handle the fairly important role he's played in modern history, but be was offered the job, and I doubt I'd have turned it down either. So I don't really blame him for that. It was a sweet gig and I'm sure he was glad to have it.

The Russert Fanclub

But none of that is what I meant to write about. What I really wanted to write about was Russert's fans and the fact that there are any. I guess I hang out too much in the liberal blogosphere, because it really never occurred to me that anyone really liked Tim Russert, outside of the Beltway people. Almost all liberals disliked Russert for various reasons, and the guy never really struck me as being that interesting. Again, I understand why the Beltway types liked him. I just never realized it extended to other people.

But sure enough, I happened to read a story in Yahoo about Russert's wife, and the messageboard is overflowing with people insisting that Russert was a great man who they trusted and will definitely miss. And while I suppose some people must have watched his show, it really surprised me to see people taking it so seriously.

Here are a few sample comments:

John W: The loss of Tim Russert is the greatest loss this country has known for a long time and will remain so for a long time to come. No one did for the United States as much or as well as Tim did in his causing the truth or one's true character to become revealed under the light of his scrutiny. God bless you, Tim, for being all that you were and for showing us how to live and perform. Thank

Michael M: Thanks Tim R. you have set the standard for accurate and true political reporting without all the spin as all the other programs provide. You are a true American balancing family and work, doing the best in both roles! The bar you set is very in peace and go Bills!

LuckyMe: I put very little, if any, in the media's reporting, but when Tim Russert gave his reports, I felt he had done his homework. He was not a man to sensationalize -- He was a journalist (and the best) who the public could put their faith and trust in for the facts to be accurate. Journalism has lost its "brightest" media personality.

Even the Christian Nihilists were there to defend Tim. Addressing how doctors said Russert's heart attack was caused from being overweight, Marvel B wrote "It don't matter how well you eat or exercise, that's not going to promise you a longer life. When it's your time it's your time, no matter how healthy you are. We all are going to go someday and the way the world is looking we may go sooner. God is watching over us all."

Well shit, if nothing I do matters, why do anything? I'll just eat Twinkies all day, guzzle, whiskey, and move as little as possible. Besides, the world's probably going to end soon anyway, so I might as well avoid getting a job. Don't want to interfere with my praying time. And I find it interesting to see nihilists who believe in God, particularly have often I keep hearing how atheism leads to nihilism. But I guess there isn't any real cure to the "nothing matters" meme.

Preserving the Establishment

And wow, while I was expecting people to praise him, I really felt like much of this praise was meant mockingly. Yet there were so many similar comments that I now think that most of them were sincere.

But again, my point here isn't to knock Russert or even the people who clearly thought quite highly of him. My point is merely to express surprise at how many people really seemed to like the guy and think he was doing an excellent job. Not that I thought most people thought the same of him as liberals did, but I always assumed that, at most, people tolerated him. But it really never occurred to me how many people truly thought he was doing a great job. Or that people outside of the Beltway really bought into his regular guy image that he liked to project of himself, rather than that he was yet another out-of-touch millionaire who long ago forgot how the normal people live.

Again, I'm not saying that as a way of knocking him now, but rather conveying what my feelings of him were from when he was alive. And while I still believe that the media isn't as influential as they're given credit for, it really does worry me when people consider Russert's performance to be the epitome of great journalism. And while his work was considerably better than that of Fox News, or even the vapid CNN, it still was fairly biased towards his personal friendships with Establishment politicos; which includes his assumption that everything was off-the-record unless the source said otherwise (which turns him into a dictation service) as well as his silence on the whole Plame-leak thing.

But again, I think he had good intentions in all this and if anyone is to blame, it was NBC and the Beltway for giving him the power they did, rather than to blame him for failing to understand his profession better. Unfortunately, our entire media structure is biased to the preservation of the Establishment. It's not that media elites like Russert are to blame for the problems with the media, but rather that the system will only allow people like Russert to be in such positions. I don't blame Russert for doing the job the way he thought he should, but rather blame the media for wanting someone who did the job that way. Unfortunately, the only media players who can get ahead are the ones who play ball, and until that changes, they'll always find someone to do the job.


Shimmy said...

I remember Tim Russert always did his homework and asked the tough questions. Tim Russert was an American character right from Mark Twain.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Again, I'm not trying to knock Russert, but the problem is that he DIDN'T always do his homework, and he only asked tough questions to the people he wanted to grill. But he didn't grill everyone and clearly had the media's standard bias for the Political Establishment. It isn't a rightwing or leftwing bias, but a bias towards the people in power.

Not only did he deceive us about the Plame issue and had a bizarro policy of assuming that his sources were always off-the-record unless they told him otherwise, but the Bush Admin knew they could use him to spin the news in their favor. I'm referring specifically to how Dick Cheney knew he could use Russert to control his message. That's definitely NOT how people act if they expect to be asked tough questions.

As one of Cheney's aids testified: "I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used. It's our best format."

And that was regarding the Plame issue, where Russert knew far more than he told us, yet Cheney believed he could still use it to lie to us.

Shimmy said...

He was the 23rd avatar of Vishnu, which is why he didn't have to do his homework.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Ah yes, I sometimes forget about that. Russert DID have the Vishnu thing going for him. I guess that makes up for everything. Go Bills!

If only we could all be influential millionaires while remaining true to our salt of the earth origins, instead of being the middle-class working stiff elitists we are.

John of the Dead said...

The real reason folks are discouraged from speaking ill of the dead is deferrence to the grieving families. Sure, you were close to an empty big-and-tall suit for years, whose job was to prop up those in power and maintain the status quo while appearing to be a "tough journalist," but this is a rough time for you and we shouldn't point out the myriad flaws in your dead husband/father/brother/son/what-have-you. :-)

Seriously, though, it's not that we're trying to respect the dead - we're trying to respect those still living. I'm not saying I agree with that attitude, as I would prefer to have told the good deeds and the ill, and let everyone judge accordingly, but that's the reasoning.

Doctor Biobrain said...

John - Yeah, I guess that makes more sense. But all the same, what could we have said about someone like Nixon that his family hadn't heard millions of times already? Yet we were supposed to be nice about him too. And what exactly is the statute of limitations when it comes to someone like Nixon? Surely we're not still in the respectful period, but when did that end?

And frankly, I don't think most people really know why they think we shouldn't speak ill of the dead, outside of some vague feelings they have telling them that it's wrong. And how's this for ironic: We're supposed to be respectful of people who, theoretically, might be burning in Hell as we speak. So it's wrong to say bad things about them, but it's perfectable acceptable for God to allow them to suffer for billions and billions of years. How odd.

Hot poker up the rear: Si!
Talking about their personal failings: No!

And John, you sure do seem to know a lot about dead people. Perhaps the "of the Dead" name is a not so subtle hint of something?