Tim Russert made Mitt Romney.
By Kevin John Sowyrda
There isn't a journalist on the block who had a greater impact on gubernatorial politics in Massachusetts than did NBC’s Tim Russert, whose recent death has become a national news event. Allow me to explain, with some necessary preambles.
First, though I disagree with the journalistocracy that Tim walked on water and had a direct line to the office of Jesus Christ, I’ll grant you that he was a quick study, cresting far above the horrendously average people trying to pass as reporters at his network; and he clearly had the ability to connect with viewers so that his program, Meet the Press, reportedly profited his bosses a hefty fifty million dollars annually.
But how can you can not be above that sceptered sway, as Shakespeare would say, when your colleagues are so dreadfully mired in self absorption and the pursuit of mediocrity. Take a peak at the Peacock and you’ll wince at White House Commentator David Gregory, who once called in to the Don Imus show from India, clearly five sheets to the wind. And then there’s former sports babbler Keith what’s his name from MS-whatever, whose new ratings grabbing technique is to rant and rave at the camera like he just got bad news about his 401k balance, followed by an abrupt hurling of papers into the air as his program, watched by somebody out there, floats, mercifully, to a commercial break. (Keith is presently competing with his nemesis at Fox, Bill O’Reilly, to see who can be the most trite and ridiculous cable creature. By a razor thin margin, Keith is beating the other blowhard, over at Fox.)
Yeah, compared to the plants they grow at NBC, Tim Russert was definitely the hybrid crop. But let’s put a needed check on some of the hyperbole. On Sunday morning Tom Brokaw unabashedly pronounced of his late colleague, “Had he gone in to politics he certainly would have been President of the United States (emphasizing the word certainly).” I know they’re mourning over at Rockefeller Centre right now, but could we please confine the commentary to some semblance of Earthly reality?
And though I never needed to know about his father and personal life - I’m interminably old fashioned in that I heartily agree with Brian Lamb at CSPAN that a true journalist is someone who never makes them self the story for any, any reason - I’ll take Mike Barnicle’s word as solid gold that Tim was indeed the proverbial nice guy and I’m certain that St. Peter has found the NBC broadcaster, taken from us about thirty years too soon, a suite in Heaven superior to what I’ll ever see.
All that said, it was the late Mr. Tim Russert who unexpectedly gave birth to Mitt Romney’s political ascendancy and changed history in Massachusetts, hardly for the better if your have any progressive leanings.
It was October, 2002 and Democrats had every reason to aspire to end what already had become the Republicans’ iron grip on the governor’s office. State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien had pulled off a stunning primary win and her opponent was not the Weldian Republican voters had developed a comfort level with, but instead, in stark contrast, the very conservative Utah Republican, Mitt Romney, already known to state voters for his failed bid against Ted Kennedy in 1994. On paper, this was the chance to bring the conservative Democrats and the plethora of un-enrolled voters back to the Democratic fold.
Tim Russert didn’t let it happen. For a man who was never on a mission, Russert came to Suffolk University that Autumn carrying a dozen Garmins and a pre ordained strategy to moderate the big debate; by the end of which O’Brien was severely scathed, never to regain her footing.
Like George Patton rolling toward Berlin, Russert pummeled O’Brien on her pro-choice credentials using such an arcane inconsistency in her position that the attack was as bizarre as it was ironically affective. Russert brought to the attention of the world that O’Brien’s opposition to parental consent for a young woman’s abortion was an oddity given the fact that a Massachusetts law required same for a minor to obtain services from a tattoo parlor.
Granted, O’Brien had been poorly prepared for the debate. But the Democratic nominee for governor wasn’t given a breather by the relentless Russert. I remember watching the pouncing he gave her and I realized what it would be like if Richard Simmons had ever gone into the ring with Muhammad Ali. It just wasn’t pretty.
The questions delivered to Romney by the illustrious Russert were, well, hardly as sharp. One might have thought an appropriate Russertism would have been something like this. “Governor, you’ve recently run advertisements attacking Shannon O’Brien in her role as treasurer, but isn’t it true that your own campaign is being run by the two deputy treasurers from the past Republican administration there, during which time more than ten million dollars was embezzled by the people they appointed?”
Russert didn‘t ask it, even though I was shouting it at my T.V. set.
A devout, Jesuit Roman Catholic, Russert used abortion as a wedge issue in the O’Brien-Romney debate - rather ironic, given the fact that wedge issues are usually used by the candidates and not the moderator. As the famous quote from one of the partisans at the event went, Shannon lost to the moderator.
The rest is history. Romney sailed into the governor’s office with a lot of wind blown in his sails from Tim Russert‘s slanted moderating, resulting in four years of Big Dig largesse, presidential positioning and interminable antagonizing of the Gay Community. Tim went on to other debates, and for some reason a pattern developed - the other women were treated no better than Shannon.
Just ask Hillary Clinton what she really thinks……….privately, in a few months when the hysteria dies down.