Extraordinary situations give one an extraordinary window into what people are made of. Not just people in government, but people in the media. There was the moving outrage expressed by reporters who were actually there: Anderson Cooper, Tony Zumbado, Shepard Smith -- and by others who weren't, like Ted Koppel in his interview with FEMA figurehead Michael Brown.
Then there is...Tim Russert.
It's not like Russert Watch was a big fan of Russert's before today. But today's show was a shocker.
As we ask ourselves in the coming months what sort of government we want to have, and what sort of country we want to live in, and what sort of media we want, today's Meet the Press was a case study in what we don't want. There is a lot to say about it, but I want to distill it all down to one moment on the show.
It was a truly stunning moment of national television, after a week in which the bar for stunning has been set pretty high.
(And now thanks to C&L you can see it again and again.)
The president of Jefferson Parish, one of the two hardest hit parts of the New Orleans area, was being interviewed by Russert and giving a chapter-and-verse accounting of how, as he put it, "we have been abandoned by our own country." And then in the course of recounting the following story, he broke down and wept:
BROUSSARD: I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night.... Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sakes, shut up and send us somebody.
What was Tim's response? Hard to believe, but here it is:
RUSSERT: Just take a pause, Mr. President. While you gather yourself in your very emotional times, I understand, let me go to Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi. Governor Barbour, can you bring our audience up to date on what is happening in your state?
Not only did Russert fail as a human being to rise to the occasion of responding to another human being breaking down on his show, but when he cut away to Haley Barbour, he never asked the governor of Mississippi for a response to the staggering incompetence that drove Broussard to tears. Instead, he tossed him a softball. Yet Barbour was uniquely qualified to answer Broussard's emotional challenge to put up or shut up. After all, the Mississippi governor is also a former chairman of the party in power.
On top of all of this, isn't Barbour an American as well as being a Mississippian? Forget about being an American, how about being human? How could Russert let him get away with saying "I don't know anything about Louisiana"?
But wait, there's actually more.
Do you know what was Russert's second question to Gov. Barbour?
"Governor, will you rebuild casinos along the Gulfport?"
And he never gave the floor back to Broussard.
After three months, Russert Watch is officially speechless...
The rebuilding in the next year should not be confined to New Orleans.