Russert Watch: "L'Affaire Reid" and Other Russert Obsessions

I was almost looking forward to Meet the Press this morning. It's been a big week, after all. The party in charge of the White House, the House, and the Senate is in meltdown. Tom DeLay resigned his number one two position (sorry Denny, I keep forgetting you're in charge) less than 24 hours before Tim Russert went on the air. One GOP House member has already been indicted (and wore a wire), and there are reports that another, Bob Ney, will soon join the mug-shot parade.

The guests in the first segment: Senators John Cornyn and Chuck Schumer.

And, sure enough, Tim opened the show with the Abramoff scandal. So what did he choose to focus on? What, in his estimation, was the salient point to zero in on? This: will Harry Reid return the contributions he's received -- not from Jack Abramoff himself, mind you, but from three Indian tribes and from members of Abramoff's former lobbying firm? Go get em, Tim! Some might look at the events of this week and decide that the story lay somewhere in the intersection between the Republican party and the culture of corruption. But not Tim. He knows the real story is whether Harry Reid will return the loot. (Video at C&L.)

That kind of editorial judgement is no doubt why, according to his bio at, Tim isn't just the moderator of Meet the Press, but also its "managing editor," as well as the "senior vice president" and "Washington bureau chief" of NBC News, and a "political analyst" for NBC Nightly News.

DeLay? Abramoff? Ney? They barely got a mention from the managing editor. Even a conservative like David Brooks would have done better in the moderator's seat. "I don't know what's more pathetic," Brooks wrote in his column. "Jack Abramoff's sleaze or Republican paralysis in the face of it. Abramoff walks out of a D.C. courthouse in his pseudo-Hasidic homburg, and all that leading Republicans can do is promise to return his money and remind everyone that some Democrats are involved in the scandal, too."

It may not clean up Washington, but if there's one thing the Abramoff affair will do, it's to separate the shills for business as usual from the super shills for business as usual.

And maybe Tim should add "senior metaphysical editor" to his bio. Because after he dispensed with The Reid Affair, he went into the upcoming Alito hearings, where he channeled Samuel Alito. When Schumer brought up Alito's opinion "that the federal government can't regulate machine guns," Tim leapt to Alito's defense, as if a friend of his were being criticized behind his back. "Now," he protested, "he will say that was the debate over the Commerce Clause. It was not only the possession but also the transport."

Maybe Alito "will" say that, and maybe he will not. The chances are that he will more likely say something like, "I can't answer that, because it's a hypothetical."

But leaving aside the question of who is channeling Alito better, why did Tim feel the need to defend him, especially since John Cornyn was there and had taken the trouble to memorize all the talking points the White House had faxed over to his office?

The classic MTP moment came a few minutes later, when Tim played one of his "gotcha" clips for Chuck Schumer. Here is the exchange:

RUSSERT: Senator Schumer, back in 2001 you wrote a letter to President Bush and you said this: "The [American Bar Association] evaluation has been the gold standard by which judicial candidates are judged..."

Gold standard.


RUSSERT: And now we have this from the ABA: "Samuel A. Alito Jr. (nominated 11/10/05), to be an associate justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. Rating: 'Well qualified' by unanimous vote of the standing committee" of the ABA. It's the gold standard. He's rated well qualified. Game, set, match.

Game, set, match? A good choice of metaphor, helping, as it does, to clear up any remaining doubt about how the Beltway Blowhards regard even a Supreme Court nomination as just a game. It's all just more grist for their (if I may change game metaphors) fantasy-football-league Sunday beer brunch.

To the rest of us, this is serious stuff -- whether a guy gets to sit on the Supreme Court for life and interpret laws we all have to live under. So we are not quite ready to call "game, set, match" on the direction the country is going to take because of something Chuck Schumer once said about the ABA.

The second segment felt like one of those Meet the Press "classic moments" Tim is fond of showing when there's not enough big news like "L'Affaire Reid" to chew on. But I suppose it was useful for anyone out there who wasn't sufficiently filled in on the basic pro-choice, anti-choice positions. On the former side, we had Kate Michelman, and on the latter side, Kate O'Beirne. For those who didn't stick around for the whole thing to find out, neither has changed her position.

The last segment featured James Risen, the New York Times reporter who broke the story of Bush's illegal spying, and the author of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration. I was curious to see whether Russert would ask Risen about the question Andrea Mitchell posed to him regarding the NSA's possible spying on CNN's Christiane Amanpour. Nope. No mention. Thus keeping Russert's nearly perfect record of covering up for himself and his friends intact.

Tune in next week, when we'll no doubt hear Tim tells us what Alito meant to say in his hearings. That is, if after that startling ABA/Schumer revelation we even need to have hearings at all.

Game. Set. Match.