Today on Meet the Press, a Meet the Press classic. No, not a rerun, but a show that so clearly exemplifies what's wrong with this show and with the mainstream/Beltway media culture it represents that it should be sent straight to the Smithsonian.
Today's guests? I'll do it in the form of a quiz. See if you can guess...
Let's say you want to illustrate your lack of respect for what's at stake in politics. And you want to choose a pair of guests who will reliably perform a useless "he said/she said" parody of political debate. Who do you book?
Is there any doubt? Of course you book the dog and pony circus act that is James Carville and Mary Matalin. Believe it or not, today was the 41st time (going back to November '95*, their earliest appearance noted on LexisNexis) they brought their tired and depressing vaudeville routine to the national airwaves, care of Meet the Press. (During the same period, John McCain has been on the show 40 times.)
But today Tim really stepped it up to show how his program will go that extra mile.
James and Mary, plus their straight man Paul Begala, were on to promote Carville and Begala's new book Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future -- which, I'm sure to their publisher's immense satisfaction, was mentioned 12 times in the course of the show.
But what made this appearance extra-special is how it was so luckily timed to coincide with Carville's upcoming gig as the host of a sports show on XM satellite radio.
And what made it all even more special is the relationship of Carville's radio co-host to Meet the Press's host -- a relationship not even revealed in the following exchange:
RUSSERT: James Carville, before you go I understand that politics may be part of your past, that you're going to go on XM Satellite Radio and do sports?
CARVILLE: Well, Mr. Russert, I can't talk about that too much, but I think there's going to be a story in tomorrow's paper. Tomorrow night I'll be on the Jay Leno show on NBC, and we'll be talking about some exciting new developments and maybe a new twist on an old career.
RUSSERT: With anyone I know?
CARVILLE: Maybe you would be familiar with someone I'll be teaming up in this, but let's just say it's going to offer a generational look at sports and the coaches of sports and things like that, and we'll be joining Bob Dylan.
Hmm, whoever could it be? Notice the playful banter? "With anyone I know?" "I can't talk about that too much..."
Fortunately, a faithful Russert Watch insider sent me an advance copy of the press release about the talk show and Carville's mystery partner. Here is the release's headline:
JAMES CARVILLE AND LUKE RUSSERT TO HOST NEW SPORTS TALK SHOW EXCLUSIVELY FOR XM SATELLITE RADIO
Ah, mystery solved!
And what an exciting show this is going to be:
"This show will be another opportunity for me to engage in the back-and-forth debates on sports that, until now, Luke and I have limited to the stadium," said James Carville. ...Scheduled to debut in March 2006, the hour-long show will air weekly on XM Satellite Radio. Additional program details will be announced prior to the show's debut.
"James and Luke's amazing chemistry and energy will entertain XM's millions of listeners, even those that don't count themselves as die-hard sports fans," said Eric Logan, executive vice president of programming for XM Satellite Radio.
What are Luke's qualifications for the job?
Luke Russert is currently a sophomore at Boston College. An avid sports fan, by the time he was 16, he had attended two Super Bowls, a World Series, five Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Games, an NBA final, four NBA All-Star Games, two NCAA Final Fours, an NHL Stanley Cup Final, a U.S. Open and The Preakness Stakes. A graduate of St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., where he played football and baseball, Russert worked for the highly-rated ESPN program "Pardon the Interruption" during the summer of 2005.
Oh, also, his dad is Tim Russert.
So many questions...
Like: why wasn't this mentioned at the top of the show?
Or, why wasn't it mentioned at all?
Does Tim think nobody's going to notice that he's having a guest on his "news" show who is making it possible for his son to co-host a national sports radio show before he's out of college?
Or, more likely, does he just not give a damn, because, hey, it's all just one big game... hockey, baseball, football, politics, it's all the same thing, right?
The cozy clubby cloying nature of all this was illustrated at the very end of the show (along with a hint by Mary Matalin that almost let the cozy clubby cat right out of the bag before Monday's Jay Leno):
RUSSERT: Mary Matalin, think of it this way: if this book sells, it'll help the Democrats. But it also may pay your daughter's tuition.
MATALIN: It provides a revenue stream. I want to give something to the person that's going to be joining James in this new endeavor, because prolonged exposure to James requires an antidote. It's called, "Think." Give that to your son.
"Your son?" They have such a well-oiled mutual back-scratching club that Matalin can refer to Russert's son, unconcerned that they had not let the viewers in on the secret. But why does it matter? They're all in the same "revenue stream," so who needs to play by the rules?
Oh, yeah, and what about the substance of this segment? It was mostly exactly what you've come to expect from the James and Mary Train. Only, since it was rolling through Tim Station, even worse.
Even if they were on to promote their
mutual revenue stream book, given that Matalin was a part of the White House Iraq Group that helped sell to the American public the lies and deceptions that led to Iraq war, shouldn't you ask her at least one question about how this war is going? Especially since she's still so full of admiration for two of its biggest proponents -- the vice president and his now-indicted former chief of staff. Here is one of a multitude of gushing quotes about them that I would've loved to see Tim ask her to defend: "'Cheney and Scooter play chess on several different levels,' Matalin says. 'That's how their minds work. It's not about what's right in front of him. They look at things in the sweep of history..."
Instead we had Matalin quoting Madison and the Federalist Papers to justify the Abramoff scandal. But there was no one to challenge her. After all, the "debate" on this show only happens on a narrowly defined playing field and under a narrowly defined set of rules. Much like...hmm, a sport.
And one note about the game's first half, which featured Senator Barack Obama. (The blogosphere is buzzing about it -- see Jonah Goldberg at The Corner, Rising Hegemon, Crooks and Liars, Atrios, and Peter Daou.) Obama, as you know, is not just one of the Democratic Party's rising stars, he's also black. So, naturally, when you have him on, you're not really doing your job as a hard-hitting journalist if you don't ask him about...Harry Belafonte. No, I'm not kidding:
RUSSERT: Let's talk a little bit about the language people are using in the politics now of 2006, and I refer you to some comments that Harry Belafonte made yesterday. He said that Homeland Security had become the new Gestapo. What do you think of that?
And if you're a really really tough journalist, you naturally ask Obama... another question about Harry Belafonte:
RUSSERT: Mr. Belafonte went to Venezuela, as you well know, some time ago and met with Hugo Chavez, leader of that country, and said some things that obviously were noted in this country and around the world. Let's listen, and come back and talk about it.
It's unclear why Tim didn't also ask Obama to defend Lil' Kim, Kanye West and Antonio Davis.
I mean, they're all black, right? And it's just one big game, right?