MILS asks, in the endorsement thread, why I hate Tim Russert. I thought it was a joke, but then I remembered that this is our friend Mike in Lake Stevens, who is holding our “fair and balanced blog” certificate and won’t give it to us until I get around to my promised and as yet undelivered mockery of Chris Matthews. I’ll get to it soon, I promise, but in the meantime, I’ll answer your question:
Russert’s various attempts at “gotcha” questions are profoundly obnoxious. A good moderator asks occasional point-blank questions that cut through the bullshit, and Russert acts like that’s what he’s doing, but he’s not. Take his Iran question, for example. He could have asked about their assessment of the Iranian problem and their planned strategy and tactics, but instead we got (and I’m paraphrasing here) “Rudy Gulliani has made the following drunken irresponsible boast; will you join him, or dare to attempt a silly answer that, given the current framing of the issue and the 30 seconds you’ve got, is pretty much guaranteed to look like weak and equivocating waffling?” Same thing on the drivers’ license for illegal immigrants question–rather than ask them about their approach to immigration policy, he hammered away at Clinton on whether and how much she supported Spitzer’s widely misunderstood attempt at a coping strategy for dealing with the current failed policies of immigration being undertaken at the state level (why taking a stand on this issue is relevant for candidates for federal office remains unclear), and tried to make her efforts to talk about immigration policy seriously look like a dodge on her part.
There has been a common standard form for Russert’s questions, and it goes something like this:
Russert: I demand you give an unequivocal answer to this bizarre micro-question on a peripheral topic of a larger important issue, designed to tie you down to what will likely be an unpopular stance.
Candidate: (attempts to talk about the actual issue)
Russert, interrupting: Why won’t you answer my question?? What are you hiding?
Politicians peddle bullshit all the time. The fact that the debate moderators routinely outdo do them on this score is apalling.