Russert Watch: Running from Sheehan and the Truth

Today Andrea Mitchell was sitting in for Tim Russert -- once again, no mention of that on the Meet the Press web site. If there were any more proof needed of how ensconced this show is inside the D.C. establishment, here is how Mitchell brought up Cindy Sheehan in her interview of Joe Biden: "There is a mother of a soldier who died in Iraq who is protesting down in Crawford and has now been joined by organized anti-war protesters. Do you agree with Cindy Sheehan? Should we withdraw immediately?"

Can you imagine another way of formulating the obligatory question about Sheehan that would more easily have allowed Andrea -- and Biden -- to distance themselves from the grieving mother who wants to meet with the man who sent her son to die in Iraq?

Biden, who is running for president, loved, of course, the opportunity to talk about troop withdrawal rather than a mother's standoff with the president. He ended his answer as far away from Crawford as possible: "When we were in the Balkans, we, in fact, dealt with the Croats as well as the Serbs according to the Dayton accords..."

Dayton? The Balkans?

Here is Biden, with pretensions of being a "regular joe" kinda guy who just "goes by his gut" and "connects with the people," and in his one chance to speak about Sheehan, he's off to the Balkans. Andrea lets it drop, and you can almost feel the two of them breathe a sigh of relief, having successfully tiptoed across the minefield of an actual story -- a mother whose sacrifice gives her the moral authority to confront the president of the United States.

After Andrea made sure Cindy knew her place in the Meet the Press world, she quickly moved on to a question about John Roberts and the growing fight over whether the White House will release documents relating to Roberts' tenure as Deputy Solicitor General:

"You and seven other Democrats on the committee," she said, "have written to the administration demanding documents, records from when John Roberts was in the solicitor general's office. Is this a fishing expedition?"

A fishing expedition? A journalist calling a request for public documents from the White House a fishing expedition? Biden's answer to the question barely matters -- though he doesn't, for the record, believe that it's a fishing expedition for the Senate to have access to the same information on Roberts in confirming him as the White House had in selecting him.

What does matter is that Andrea Mitchell has drifted so far away from being a journalist that she used the phrase "fishing expedition" to describe a request for public documents. I guess we won't be seeing Andrea's name on any FOIA requests. But she's certainly proved why she's Tim's favorite guest host.

Meet the Press wouldn't be Meet the Press without its signature exchange: a completely implausible statement met with... complete silence. Here we are in the next segment, with E.J. Dionne and Byron York (beloved occasional HuffPost blogger) discussing Sheehan. Here is York: "Talking with administration officials... they do not want to criticize her. I mean, they said to me in privacy we're going to give her as much room as she needs.... In private they have not criticized this woman."

Talk about swinging for the fences! Yeah, sure, whatever you say, Byron. We totally believe you. The response of Karl Rove et al when faced with a critic of their Iraq policy who is becoming something of an uncontrollable media sensation is to say -- in even private conversations -- hey, above all, don't criticize her!

Other than the guest host of Meet the Press, who are you kidding?