The political kabuki players on Meet the Press today were Senators Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). With Kennedy, Russert played his usual "gotcha" you-said-this-38-years-ago-and-it's-different-from-what-you're-saying-now thing (via Atrios). But he also played a new game -- at least new to him, old hat to Sean Hannity -- of reading a quote and not revealing who said it until he gets a reaction from the guest (via C&L).
With Coburn, we had Russert once again failing to ask follow-up question after follow-up question.
RUSSERT: Will the American people hear from the Senate Intelligence Committee as to their report on prewar intelligence?
COBURN: Oh, I think they will but they're not going to hear anything new.
How does Senator Coburn know this? Tim doesn't ask, of course. But Coburn did give a hint of how he came by his premonition powers. It was because of "the three studies that have looked at this so far, and said there is no, no, no any intention..."
This is, by the way, the new RNC-shill talking point that Russert let stand. Bill Kristol said it (via Josh Marshall), the Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh and Major Garrett said it (via Media Matters).
In fact, none of these reports (the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Phase I, the Robb-Silberman report on WMD intelligence, or the Butler report) in any way exonerated the White House of distorting pre-war intelligence.
Then Coburn went on to do some distorting of his own. When Russert asked him about reports "in the paper" of an "al-Qaeda official who was apprehended and was debriefed and told mistruths, gave bum information," he responded: "Well, I think the article that you're referring to was in The Post today, and I believe that they said that there's not a connection, that somebody in the administration actually had that. Well, some of the national security staff might have it, but not that the administration directly did."
Post? It was actually both the Washington Post and the New York Times. "Not a connection?" Wrong. " Not the administration directly?" Wrong. According to the very Post article Coburn was citing, the DIA report had been sent to the White House.
Number of these points raised by Tim? Zero.
Couldn't he at least have mentioned that, as Doug Jehl puts it in the Times, "according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document," "a top member of Al Qaeda in American custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biological and chemical weapons"?
To be fair, however, Russert did mention his own involvement in Plamegate. Here is what he said: "Five government officials and three journalists, including yours truly, included in [the indictment]."
That's it. Just one cute, glib mention. But it's not enough, and thanks to Tom Maguire, Mickey Kaus, and Accuracy in Media, we know this Sunday more than we knew last Sunday just how not-enough it is.
Accuracy in Media, which has called on Russert to recuse himself, has examined the ethics code of the Society of Professional Journalists that Russert is violating: "Russert was a witness against Libby and his testimony was provided to the grand jury that produced the Libby indictment. Russert is reported to be a likely prosecution witness against the former vice presidential chief of staff."
At Just One Minute, Maguire examines the transcript of the October 29 Tim Russert Show with David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell. This was supposed to be the let-it-all-hang-out postmortem. But Maguire shows otherwise:
Mr. Russert may believe that [NBC's] current modified limited hang-out is doing less damage to their reputation than would a full disclosure of their behavior in July 2003. We are here to help them re-think that view....
Then Mickey Kaus analyzes the case of the missing transcript (from Russert's August 7, 2004 appearance on the NBC Nightly News) and the case of the missing half-sentence (from Russert's account on last Sunday's Meet the Press).
Here is that half-sentence: "... and was not asked questions that required him to disclose information provided in confidence." And here is Mickey's take on what it may mean:
"Does that mean this half-sentence is no longer operative? That Russert has now, in fact, given (or agreed to give) the special prosecutor "information provided in confidence," violating whatever promise to Libby he had previously asserted? (Specifically, he might have told Fitzgerald what Libby told him as well as what he told Libby.) ... That could explain why Russert made a point of telling Brian Williams, 'Well, Brian, he called me as a viewer, not as source.'"
If Russert wants to emerge from this mess with more credibility than Scooter Libby, he needs to stop letting bloggers tell the public what may or may not be going on. Truly.