RussertWatch: Meet The Press, And Your Best Format!

01/29/2007 07:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Greetings and welcome to RussertWatch, made meta yesterday thanks to the glowing review of "Meet The Press" during the Libby trial last week, wherein former Vice-Presidential communications director Cathie Martin noted that she often suggested that Vice-President Dick Cheney go on "Meet The Press" to "control the message." From the Washington Post:

"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."

With this in mind, I went back and reviewed my assessment of Cheney actually on "Meet The Press" back in September, where I noted that, though Tim Russert had hammered at Cheney on a number of obvious points (greeted as liberators, insurgency in its last throes, WMDs in Iraq) those were all predictable and easy to prepare for, and that Russert hadn't done much for the follow up (as also noted, presciently, by HuffPo's Stephen Kaus: ("Russert has to be the most superficial person that has ever been given such a national platform. No wonder Cheney goes on his show").

No wonder, indeed, for Cheney or anyone — and yesterday, it was former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who declared his intention to file papers for ye olde Presidential exploratory committee. A zillion and one contenders by this time, for a race that is still in the hypothetical stages and is still 21-odd months away, with the State of the Union just passed and Iraq still and ever the burning issue, but still, its as reliable a spot as ever for someone to whom Russert can ask his favorite question: "Are you running for president?"

To be fair, Russert went through Huckabee's record on a number of points, and he took him to task (well, sort of) on his position on gay marriage in the video below:

With Russert, though, the rub is always in the "sort of" - because sure, he asked Huckabee pointed questions about gay marriage. But by allowing him to ease glibly into "what's best for the child" with no proof (never mind implying that banning gay marriage is somehow related to preserving heterosexual marriage - wha?) while folding it all into a grab-bag family-values-anti-poverty-education-anti-crime argument, Russert is letting Huckabee frame it with his own self-serving gloss, unchallenged. Best format, indeed.

That said, this interview was a lot more informative than Huckabee's appearance on "The Daily Show" a few weeks back (see here and here), where Jon Stewart left Huckabee's position on gay marriage out of the mix entirely, and there was also nothing on Huckabee's previous statements about wanting to "take this nation back for Christ" — though they're from 1998, that's the sort of thing that still echoes right on into the present. See above re: gay marriage.) On "The Daily Show," Huckabee came across as a relaxed, goal-focused moderate; on "Meet The Press," those goals were at least examined for a bit of the backstory. Well, maybe "examined" is stretching it a bit. Really all Russert does is ask about these positions enough to let someone justify them.

Here's something interesting, and subtle though, which I'm not sure anyone caught - or even if it was intentional. Huckabee threw a dig at that sure seemed aimed at George Bush— if you knew its provenance. Check it out:

I was the first male in my entire family lineage to even graduate high school. I've lived the American dream, Tim. One of the reasons that I'm running for president is because I think that America needs folks who understand what it is to start at the bottom of the ladder and climb their way to the top. We've got a lot of people who are born on third base and think they've hit a triple.

Sound familiar? It will to ardent fans of the late, great Ann Richards, who lobbed that famous bon mot at George Bush Sr. in the Texas legislature, a zinger that became an instant classic in the political lexicon and has easily and oft been applied to George Jr. An accidental phrase? On MTP in a candidacy announcement — you gotta doubt it.

Just one more note here, about the follow-up roundtable with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senator David Vitter (R-LA), former Bush speechwriter, Michael Gerson and and former Clinton foreign policy adviser Ken Pollack (read it all in the transcript here). The following short clip iss interesting, because it has another standard Russert question — "Do you regret your vote on the war?" — and Schumer started in saying "No," because of the information they'd all received at the time. Watch it:

Russert interrupts here in a way that gets Schumer away from that, but in the midst of the Libby trial and all that's being dredged up over the trumped-up rationale for war, it's an interesting reminder that, whatever you think of those who voted for the war, recall that the decision was based on faulty information knowingly supplied by the administration. That's what PlameGate was about, not about Richard Armitage being a gossip or Valerie Plame having a desk job. It's always instructive to recall that.

That's it for RussertWatch this week, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we zzzzzzzzzzzz. See you next week, or whenever, for another round of their very best format — if not yours.