Joe Klein on Russert, the Clintons
by catfish2, Sat Jun 14, 2008 at 06:47:04 PM EDT
Journalism is a tough job; the adrenaline-pumping nature of the business can exacerbate any heart problems one may be slightly susceptible to. A reporter cannot plan for the news to start jumping when she or he is ready and rested - a journalist must stalk stories where they are and when they happen.
Many a reporter have died right at their desks of heart attacks while covering breaking news. To check out for a much-needed vacation is to risk one's career; losing a scoop to a competing network can pummel ratings and advertising revenue, and could lead to the layoff of many friends.
This election is historic in so many ways. The first woman, the first African American to be viable leaders of the free world ran a competitive race. And the first septuagenarian is notable too. This means day-to-day political news reports will be filed and bound in history and textbook alike for decades to come.
Maintaining objectivity is very, very difficult for a journalist to do - in fact it's probably impossible. If you're raised a staunch Catholic and were given a great education by nuns who nurtured your talents when others considered you unruly and a bit hyperactive, it would be hard to truly see the world from the shoes of somebody who contradicted what those nuns taught you to be virtuous and right.
The job of the journalist is to make an effort to stand in the shoes of others. But even the finest journalist can only strive to do their best.
Joe Klein speaks highly of his recently deceased colleague and shares an anecdote of a time when he and Russert covered the primaries in 1992:
Every four years, through the 80s and 90s, Tim and I would go out and watch the politicians work on the weekend before the New Hampshire primary. Our most memorable excursion was in 1992, when we saw Paul Tsongas selling his chilly fiscal discipline and then watched Bill Clinton work a nursing home. A woman started to ask Clinton about the high price of prescription drugs, then dissolved in tears, unable to finish. Clinton immediately went to the woman, dropped to his knees and hugged her; he held her tight for what seemed a long time. It was a reflexive reaction, and fairly shocking -- neither of us were yet aware of Clinton's rampaging empathy -- and very moving. Tim and I looked at each other, and we both had tears in our eyes. "I don't think we'll ever see Tsongas do that," he said.
But Klein, himself a critic of both Clintons (Kelin authored "Primary Colors"), said the only disagreements he and Russert experienced were over Russert's view and treatment of the Clintons:
Tim was boggled by Clinton, impressed and appalled by him. The only real differences we had in 30 years of friendship were over his treatment of both Clintons, which I thought was occasionally too sharp -- and had its roots, I believed, in the strict lessons about sex and probity he'd learned from the nuns (which he often joked about). Our last conversation, sadly, was an argument over that.
It is very, very difficult to remain objective as a journalist. In fact, I would even argue it's impossible - a journalist brings to the table everything he or she has been taught growing up and experienced since. One person's capacity for seeing the world as others see it cannot encompass all the vantage points of humanity, it just can't and won't.
Forgiveness is a virtue taught by the religious and secular. Mr. Russert, I disagreed with much of your coverage and often thought you unknowingly, innocently, wielded your influence irresponsibly. But you took on and performed one of the toughest and most important jobs there is, one that is vital to upholding the freedoms we hold so dear. Like Klein, I think you were too hard on both Clintons and too slow to recognize them when they meant well and did right. But you were a human being, and given that constraint you performed exceptionally. Thank you for taking on that task and giving it your all. RIP.