Tim Russert, by all accounts I've heard, including from people on the progressive side who knew him well, was a decent guy.
The news of his death came as a shock to me, as it did to everyone: He was a fixture for those of us who are obsessed with politics. And to be stricken of a heart attack at 58 is a fate that no one should have to suffer.
I feel bad for his family, and for his colleagues.
For many years, I looked forward to watching him on Meet the Press.
But I stopped after September 11.
As the praise for Russert has overflowed, I just want to register, even at the risk of showing bad manners, a discordant note.
I stopped watching him regularly after September 11 because he became a cheerleader for war.
He festooned himself with red, white, and blue, and in one of the first programs after the attack, he appallingly said that the Bush Administration would have to prepare the American public for a "disproportionate" response.
Such a response is, by definition, immoral under just war theory.
And he was essentially inviting Bush and Cheney to kill many times more than the 3,000 people who died on September 11.
He also did not explore with Cheney the Vice President's comment to him that the United States would need to go to "the dark side." Some early skepticism about the torture and kidnapping that was to come might have done the country good.
A year and a half later, right before the Iraq War, Russert let Cheney get away with an outrageous comment that was pure propaganda.
It was March 16, 2003, less than a week before Bush and Cheney started bombing.
Russert: And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency said he does not have a nuclear program, we disagree.
[Note the pronoun "we."]
Cheney: I disagree, yes. And you'll find the CIA, for example, and other key parts of our intelligence community, disagree. And we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.
Russert didn't challenge him on that bald-faced lie.
When Cheney came back on, almost two years later, Russert played the videotape. But rather than aggressively going after Cheney, Russert soft-pedaled.
Russert: Reconstituted nuclear weapons. You misspoke.
Cheney: Yeah, I did misspeak. I said repeatedly during the show "weapons capability." We never had any evidence that he had acquired a nuclear weapon.
For Russert, who rightfully earned a reputation as a tough questioner, to go easy on Cheney, well, this was not his finest habit.
I bring all this up, even at this delicate moment, to point out simply that even great mainstream journalists sometimes bow to patriotism and to power, and when they do, our democracy, and the cause of peace and justice, suffers.
Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.
© 2008 The Progressive