I Have Some Questions For Tim Russert

During Tuesday night's debate, and apropos of nothing, NBC's Tim Russert asked Sen. Obama whether he "accepts the support of Louis Farrakhan." It was an illusion of balance.
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Throughout the last seven years, we've observed the very serious traditional media reacting to what many perceive as a bias of all varieties: from a liberal bias, to an anti-liberal bias, to facts proving that some reporters were actually paid to be Bush White House propagandists. According to several very serious traditional media people, the anti-liberal bias -- the White House cheerleading -- has been a direct reaction to the far-right's accusations of a so-called liberal media bias.

So the very serious people who run the very serious networks and publications have deliberately manufactured what they consider to be very serious "balance" and "fairness." But it's artificial and misleading. For instance, when the Republicans were (and still are) boogie boarding through an ocean filled with lobbyist cash and Astroglide, the traditional media felt that, on balance, they needed to continually repeat the relatively insignificant story about that one Democratic congressman who was keeping some unsavory cash stored inside his mini-fridge.

That's not balance -- it's pandering to the far-right.

"Reality," as Stephen Colbert says, "has a well-known liberal bias." If the reality is that the Republicans are hypocritical fear mongering homophobes, and yet a big pile of them are caught rolling out of the closet at Jack Abramoff's house -- tweaking from the meth, and suffering from priapism after the Boner Cruise to Sex-tourism Island -- then that's the news. That's the reality. Mentioning a Democratic senator who is gay or another who took lobbyist cash doesn't offer balance, it offers non-sequitur irrelevance.

During last night's Democratic debate, and apropos of nothing, NBC's Tim Russert asked Senator Obama whether he "accepts the support of Louis Farrakhan." Again, it's the illusion of balance. But it would only have been balanced if Russert had just previously quizzed Senator Clinton about something equally as ridiculous. For instance, "Senator Clinton: do you accept the support of Ann Coulter who said she'd vote for you over Senator McCain? Ann Coulter once called John Edwards a fag, and she said that Jews need to be perfected. Ha-HAH! Gotcha!"

If Tim Russert couldn't come up with a challenging question for Senator Obama based on his views or policies or record, then he shouldn't have asked anything. But NBC has been widely accused of being too hard on Senator Clinton and not hard enough on Senator Obama, so it seems to me as if this Farrakhan thing was a direct reaction to the accusations that MSNBC has a pro-Obama bias.

But no degree of bias, whether real or imagined, excuses such a bizarre and irrelevant question -- a question which seems to me as if it was designed to test Senator Obama's question-answering skills; to see if he could discuss anti-Semitism without offending either African- or Jewish-Americans. Does Senator Obama accept the endorsement of well-reputed anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan? Was Russert somehow expecting the answer to be "yes?" What was the endgame here? Did Russert ask the question on a dare? Did Brian Williams walk up backstage and, as a prank, suggest, "Hey there, Mr. Stay-Puft! I double-dog dare you to ask about Farrakhan! Haha. That'd be rad." (After the debate last night, Williams asked Russert to press his tongue to a flagpole and Russert did that, too.)

So I have some questions for Mr. Russert.

In 2004, you appeared on the Rush Limbaugh radio show and had the following discussion on the air. [I'm holding up the printed transcript Russert-style between my thumb and index figure.]

LIMBAUGH: [W]e don't often have guests on this program, but we made an exception, here, for our friend, Tim Russert of NBC News and we -- Tim? How are you, first off. Nice to have you with us. It's a real pleasure.

RUSSERT: It's an honor to be here, Rush. Thank you very much.


LIMBAUGH: When you get to your rank, succession become[s] something that's often discussed. You will eventually become president of the news division of NBC. Who will you hire to replace you as the moderator at N -- at Meet the Press?

RUSSERT: ...I -- if I got hit by a truck tomorrow, I -- who -- who would take -- who should take over? That's a good question. What do you think, Rush?

LIMBAUGH: [laughs] I haven't thought about it. In all candor. That's why I asked you. You are such a fixture. I don't see anybody else in that chair.

RUSSERT: Well, thanks, I -- I mean, I --

LIMBAUGH: I -- I actually don't --

RUSSERT: -- should I nominate you?

LIMBAUGH: Look, Tim, I appreciate [laughter] -- that would fly. That -- you ought to try it, Tim, see how long those 12 years last you at NBC. [laughter] Anyway, this has been fun. I always enjoy talking to you, and I appreciate our relationship over the years.

As you may or may not know, Mr. Russert, Rush Limbaugh has said many offensive things over the years and I'd like to get your reaction.

---Limbaugh once mocked Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's symptoms, and accused the actor of exaggerating his tremors for effect.

---Limbaugh recently said of Senator Clinton: "Because Mrs. Clinton's testicle lockbox is big enough for the entire Democrat hierarchy, not just some people in the media. And whether they have been taking steroids and the testicles are smaller than usual doesn't matter. Her lockbox, her testicle lockbox can handle everybody in the Democrat hierarchy."

---Last year, Limbaugh accused veterans who oppose the Iraq war of being "phony soldiers." He also compared a veteran to a suicide bomber.

---Rush Limbaugh produced a song parody about Senator Obama called "Barack The Magic Negro."

---Rush Limbaugh has on several occasions joked about Senator Obama being a "Halfrican-American."

So my question is this, Mr. Russert: do you accept, reject or denounce Rush Limbaugh's various on-air compliments and kudos of you, and will you ever again appear on Limbaugh's nationally syndicated radio show? Do you, Mr. Russert, retract your statement that you might nominate Rush Limbaugh to take over Meet the Press when you eventually retire?

Do you, Mr. Russert, see the logical fallacy in my questioning? In other words, just because Rush praised you then proceeded to say racist and offensive things, it doesn't necessarily mean that you agree with Rush about those statements; it doesn't necessarily mean that you're a racist or misogynist; it doesn't necessarily mean that you need to publicly reject or denounce a fuckwit like Limbaugh just because he said nice things about you.

UPDATE: Will Bunch demands that Russert denounce Imus, too. (h/t TPM)

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