I'm sure you've seen The Daily Show's Jon Stewart interview with Jim Cramer by now. It's all over the news. In fact, the interview itself has become news. Why? Because for the first time since David Letterman's interview with candidate John McCain last October, someone did their job and asked the tough questions.
Okay, Stewart and Letterman are comedians, but they have taken their responsibility as media far more seriously than most of the people who call themselves real journalists. Stewart and Letterman did their homework. They asked the tough questions and followed up when Cramer and McCain tried to dodge. In each case, the subjects looked dazed, as if being confronted and having to explain their actions was breaking the unwritten rule of television journalism: We're all members of the same club. Show some respect.
A few years ago I attended a Town Hall speaker event at the old Universal Amphitheater. The panel consisted of the late Tim Russert, Bob Woodward, Andrea Mitchell, George Tenet and Paul Bremer. We expected a lively discussion and a grilling by Russert, Mitchell and Woodward regarding the Bush administration's Iraqi policy. Instead we got what looked liked a group of friends sitting around Jack Abramoff's restaurant, exchanging amusing anecdotes about life in DC and quips about how they much preferred the weather in Los Angeles to Washington.
Some people started to boo. A few more walked out. As I watched I realized that this was indeed a club of old friends. No doubt they had all traveled from DC together on a private plane or in a first class cabin. I'm sure they all had dinner together before the show and exchanged snapshots of their families. And I'll bet they all made a deal: Don't throw any hard punches to members of the club. The first rule of the Washington Fight Club: There is no Washington Fight Club.
What we now know is this: At the time of the event, Tim Russert had already been approached by Scooter Libby about Valerie Plame, yet he choose to remain silent until he was subpoenaed. Bob Woodward had been granted unprecedented access to the inner workings of the Bush administration for his own personal gain (a series of books) and Andrea Mitchell was sleeping with Alan Greenspan (her husband), one of the people most responsible for the economic disaster we're now in. Now wonder they treated Tenet and Bremer with kid gloves, least they be asked to defend their actions.
Bob Shieffer is a family friend of the Bushes. George Stephanopoulos is the former Clinton administration press secretary. "Fair and Balanced" Fox's resident sage is Karl Rove, who's been held in contempt of congress and is most likely going to stonewall John Conyer's committee under some bogus "Presidential Privilege" defense. His dance partner at the Washington Correspondents dinner a few years back was the new Meet The Press moderator David Gregory. Do we really believe that it is in any of their interests to ask the hard questions and get to the truth? Has television journalism sunk that low when Katie Couric is hailed as a hero for asking Sarah Palin what newspapers she reads?
Stewart and Letterman aren't members of the club, which is why they're doing the heavy lifting while Cokie Roberts, James Carville and Juan Williams put more energy into their lecture series appearances than doing their jobs.
The fourth estate has abdicated its responsibilities to Stewart, Letterman, Olbermann, Maddow, Campbell Brown and the bloggers on the internet. These are the real heirs to Edward R. Murrow. If I want to watch David Gregory and Karl Rove do their thing, I'll watch Dancing With The Stars. If I want to watch the news, I'll watch The Daily Show
Stu Kreisman is the author of Dick Cheney's Diary available here, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble.