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Tim Russert Faces Debate Backlash

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Be it legitimate grievance or sour grapes, NBC's Tim Russert has been taking shots in the wake of Tuesday's debate. In one searing indictment that ignited the blogosphere, The American Prospect's Paul Waldman called on Russert to "Stop the Inanity," throwing rhetorical grenades like:

I have a fantasy that...a candidate will say, "You know what, Tim, I'm not going to answer that question. This is serious business. And you, sir, are a disgrace. You have in front of you a group of accomplished, talented leaders, one of whom will in all likelihood be the next president of the United States. You can ask them whatever you want. And you choose to engage in this ridiculous gotcha game, thinking up inane questions you hope will trick us into saying something controversial or stupid. Your fondest hope is that the answer to your question will destroy someone's campaign. You're not a journalist, you're the worst kind of hack, someone whose efforts not only don't contribute to a better informed electorate, they make everyone dumber. So no, I'm not going to stand here and try to come up with the most politically safe Bible verse to cite. Is that the best you can do?"

The antipathy, however, was hardly confined to the blogosphere. The Hill reported today on a Clinton campaign conference call that began with a discussion of marshalling the funds necessary to properly "deflect" the attacks of "rivals," but soon turned to a discussion of Russert himself. Senior strategist Mark Penn sharply criticized Russert's questioning ("The other candidates were asked questions like, 'Is there life in outer space?'") while one called was moved to suggest that Russert "should be shot," later "adding that she shouldn't say that on a conference call."

The vein of grief between Hillary Clinton and Russert runs deep. For the essential background, see Greg Sargent's entry on the Horses Mouth, which details Russert's "ultimate 'gotcha' moment" during her 2000 debate with GOP Senatorial contender Rick Lazio, where the newsman brought up the Lewinsky affair. As Sargent relates:

The Hillary camp seethed afterwards about Russert's ambush, he took a pounding for it from the Columbia Journalism Review, and Bill even took a shot at Russert at a fundraiser, saying that the debate had been "2-on-1 half the time," meaning that Russert and Lazio had ganged up on Hillary. In other words, Russert played the "gotcha" game with Billary, the Hillary camp hit back at Russert, and then Hillary's advisers moved to spin his gotcha into a positive by arguing that the men had piled on victimized Hillary and that she'd valiantly fought back. Exactly what happened this time.

And, do note, the strategy outward ("the men had piled on victimized Hillary and that she'd valiantly fought back") is exactly the same now, as well.