09/18/2005 08:15 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Russert Watch: "I Think There's Something Happening Here"

"I think there's something happening here."

That was Gwen Ifill on Meet the Press's roundtable, responding to Byron York's comment regarding Bill Clinton's views on Iraq in the previous segment: "I will align National Review with Bill Clinton on this," York said.

So the something that was happening on Meet the Press was the news that Bill Clinton and National Review are now aligned on Iraq.

As was expected, Tim's reaction to "something happening" on his show was to completely ignore it. Though it's unclear whether he ignored it because the years of reaching toward conventional wisdom -- like sunflowers reaching toward the sun -- have left him incapable of noticing anything else, or because he actually doesn't know what to do when someone makes a real point.

In any case, Russert's answer was a complete non sequitur: "The cost of the war is considerable. The cost of Katrina is considerable. Byron, the National Review's view of record deficits -- I mean, we are looking at no end in sight."

He completely missed the point during the roundtable. And he completely missed it during his interview with Clinton. The point is that contrary to Drudge's misleading headline ("Clinton Turns on Bush"), Clinton refuses to directly challenge the president on the disaster that the war in Iraq has become (see the video here at Crooks and Liars). Through all his equivocating answers, there wasn't a single mention of the president or of anyone else in the administration responsible for this war and how it's been prosecuted.

In fact, to hear Russert and Clinton talk about the war in Iraq, you'd think it was just as much an act of God as Hurricane Katrina. In his answer to Russert's question, "Do you think the war in Iraq has hurt the U.S. image in the world?" Clinton started by saying, "I think it's been a net negative," but quickly moved on to "On the other hand, Saddam is gone and 58 percent of those people voted. That's an even higher percentage of people than voted in America in 2004, when we were proud of our turnout and when nobody's life was at risk. So there's still a chance this will work. And if it does, there's still a chance it will be a net plus for the Middle East."

Leaving aside his few mitigating hemming and hawing words, what the former president is effectively saying is what Bush's apologists are saying -- in fact, what National Review's Byron York actually said on the show: "I think there is still the possibility for good things happening." Wow, pretty stirring, huh? It must be nice for the hundreds of thousands whose loved ones are over there risking their lives that some people think there's still a possibility for good things.

So the news to emerge from today's Meet the Press is that our goal in Iraq is now "the possibility of good things."

Another opportunity that Russert missed to actually probe and ask at least one challenging question of the former president came during the discussion of global warming. Clinton appeared to be giving credit to everyone for their stand on global warming -- from British Petroleum's John Browne and GE's Jeffrey Immelt to Republicans in the Senate.

Missing from the list of those who Clinton believes deserve "a lot of credit" were the people who were right all along. Like, you know, his Vice President, who did more than any politician alive to put this issue on the map and continues to crisscross the country speaking about it.

On an on it went. Ending, of course, with the inevitable horse-race question about whether Hillary Clinton is running for president -- a question which by now must be mandated by law. We all know she's running. Tim knows. Bill knows. Hillary knows. But still the question must apparently be asked. We won't give you Bill's answer, because (a) you won't learn anything from it and (b) that's not the point of the question.

Let me close with a moment of vintage Tim -- a perfect example of what Kausfiles called Russert's "borderline-hysterical banality."

It came during the roundtable, in a question to Judy Woodruff: "If, in fact, however, a constitution is adopted and democracy begins to emerge from Iraq, is there an opportunity for good news to come from Iraq...?"

Well, yes, and if a bunch of elves come in the middle of the night and rebuild New Orleans with solid gold, there would be an opportunity for good news to come from New Orleans.

To Judy Woodruff's credit, she prefaced her answer with: "Tim, I think that's an enormous 'if.'" And an enormous waste of network real estate.

Of course, if Tim could actually transcend years of calcified conventional wisdom, if he could actually hold his guests accountable, if he could remember how to ask probing follow-through questions, then, yes, MTP would be a decent show.

But, to quote Judy, that's an enormous if.