Tim Russert died unexpectedly yesterday and my first instinct was to chop off one of my fingers. But, would this small act suffice to show my deep distress and acknowledgement of our national loss? Then I remembered that I didn't like Tim Russert very much, and the impulse subsided.
I learned about Russert's passing away via the TV stationed in the concourse of my office building. All the lobbies and open spaces at work have them, presumably to save us from having private thoughts on our long lonesome walks to the coffee stand. One talking head commenting on the passing of another. Others employees gathered and in rapid succession, all ejaculating expressions of shock and sorrow. listening to these, I sensed an undertone of practiced artifice. Our corporate culture demands compulsive door holding, formal greeting, and a spirit of forced bon homme' that is now so ingrained that our actual feelings are always a bit masked. My own reaction was the dull sense that someone had died and that was sadly our common lot. Too bad. He was young to die suddenly. I feel badly for his family. I also detected a certain stiffness bordering on alarm by my fellows at what they must have seen as a lack of appropriate compassion display.
Inevitably, Russert's fellow journalists dropped the news of the world to engage in a funerary orgy not seen since the pire of Achilles lit the shattered walls of Ilium.
Tim Russert was a newsman. He was a product of an Irish Catholic, parochial school, big city environment. He made good as a political operative and later capitalized on his skill and contacts to work in television. He was the first of a now long line of political operatives to turn coat and report the news that they used to spin. He never troubled to hide his political bias and was an on-air bully specializing in using his research staff to cherry pick quotes and video clips to discomfit guests; an easy way to seem powerful. As host of Meet the Press his victims came to him, so he never had to do any real journalism. A Democrat working for Democrats, he never needed to be very brave or very creative.
In Paddy Chayefsky's film, Network, a character says something to the effect that "people are taking what they see on the tube as real and treating their real lives as bullshit." or something to that effect. Later at a bar, a village blow-hard proposed a toast to "Tim." I didn't raise my glass, not to snub Russert, but because I recognize that I really didn't know him except as an image on a cathode ray tube. I don't know whether he was a wonderful, regular guy as depicted, or a complete bastard. He was a stranger who was paid to deliver the news.
Of course in a childish way I'd like to believe that the Samantha Brown of the Travel Channel is forever perky and fascinating, and that Clint Eastwood would be a great drinking companion. But the reality is that I and the millions of people who experience these people on the tube have no real interaction with them. They are phantoms that the simpleminded take for exemplars as the ancients took the gods and goddesses. Perhaps Samantha has halitosis, or Clint is an airhead who drinks Duvel. It really doesn't matter. I have no idea what the man called Tim Russert was like. It is really none of my business in any case. But it is amusing to see my fellow citizens having fantasy relationships with his electronic ghost.