Russert critics wasted no time

June 24, 2008|By Susan Reimer

It didn't take the bad guys long.

It was only minutes after Tim Russert's death was announced that someone apparently posted something so unpleasant on The New York Times' Web site that it was taken down almost immediately by somebody in the control room.

I didn't see what was said, but some of those who posted afterward did, and they were outraged.

By last Monday, pundits and bloggers were criticizing Russert's shocked and sad colleagues at NBC for their "overblown, self-congratulatory and self-indulgent" coverage of his death.

Why weren't we hearing from Russert's critics, they asked. Wasn't the Iowa flood more important than the death of a likable newsman? Wasn't NBC just trying to cash in on the ratings the grief of his colleagues would generate?

The speculation about who would replace him began with unseemly speed. His seat was barely cold, his coffin was not in the ground. Even those who didn't want to speculate wrote that they didn't want to speculate.

Also loose on the Web was a picture of Russert's college-aged son, Luke, in a hot tub with a bunch of babes and a raunchy quote that I guess we are to assume was from him.

Russert's death hit hard in part because he was a great newsman and also because he was an unashamedly devoted dad. The lines of regular people who waited hours to walk by his casket at St. Albans School in Washington last Tuesday would have flabbergasted Russert, his family said. But, as my husband said, his death "sent shock waves through all the 50-something men." That someone so vital and who seemed so happy in life could die so unexpectedly was hard to take in. His death gave pause to many who barely knew of him but who suddenly wondered if they were going to get more than his 58 years.

I wish his death had given that same kind of pause to those in the public discourse who thought it was their duty to take the other side, to find some fault with him or with those who grieved for him or felt he was due tribute.

I wish his death had given pause to the bloggers and posters who thought they were obliged to say anything that came into their heads.

The Internet has made it possible for people to say unpleasant things anonymously, and cable news has created dozens of new soapboxes from which people can shout, and these two things combine to cheapen and coarsen our lives in ways that are on such terrible display at times like these.

Russert seems to have been a genuinely nice guy. That his death should make him a target demonstrates how far we are falling and how fast. Not every thought we have deserves to be uttered, let alone broadcast. Not every scale needs to be balanced with a handful of dirt.

One of the ironies of the American way of death is that all the nice stuff is said about you after you are no longer around to hear it.

The good news is, that's true of the bad stuff, too.


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