04/16/2007 02:51 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

RussertWatch: Press, Meet Gwen Ifill

We must admit, we didn't approach Sunday morning's Meet the Press with the highest of hopes. Even when we saw that the line-up included, two black journalists (a first? we're not sure) and that one of them was Gwen Ifill. We were, in fact, prepared to begin today's post with some sort of math equation that calculated how many times Tim Russert has appeared on Don Imus' show (we still don't know the answer to that, only that it's been a lot) vs how many minutes were spent on the show discussing Imus (considering how much time Russert spent discussing Valerie Plame the week of the Scooter Libby deliberation, we don't think our low expectations were unfounded). But low and behold, we were wrong! And in the spirit of the week, we apologize.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Hello and welcome to this week's RussertWatch! Sunday's Meet the Press line-up included: Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni, followed by, David Brooks, Gwen Ifill, John Harwood, and Eugene Robinson. A transcript of the show can be found here.

As we said, our hopes were not high Sunday morning. And when the show opened with Fmr. General Anthony Zinni, they did not rise. Not that we don't think General Zinni is a worthy guest, certainly as the former envoy to Iraq turned Bush critic, we were happy to hear from him. It's just that, we thought, in light of the news of the week, it didn't bode well that Russert was devoting the opening of his show to a man selling a book. Wrong again! (Well, only sort of, considering the book is a re-print, and there was no mention of the recent report Zinni contributed to about why global warming is a national security issue, or, for that matter, Thursday's bombing of the Iraqi parliament inside the Green Zone.) That said, General Zinni was only on for fifteen minutes, during which time we developed an affinity for his proposal that presidents serve one six year term instead of two four year ones:

"the president is, is spending too much time and is fully committed in politics, in campaigning. I really believe we need a president that needs to become an elder statesman, that needs to rise above politics."

As well as his straight-talking, agenda-less manner (he is NOT running for office - even after just fifteen minutes we were kind of sorry to hear this). However, this is what stuck in our head:

"You know, what's, what's shocking about all this, if you look at past wars, in, in three to four years into a war, we've had remarkable transformations of our military. Just think about World War II, where we were when Pearl Harbor was attacked, what our military looked like. I mean, all our equipment was inferior to our enemy, the size of our forces, our organization, our tactics. Three and a half years later, we were a superpower. We dominated in all those areas. Even in Vietnam, at the tactical level, we made adjustments and adaptations, and, and we increased the size of the force to meet the commitment.
Although we've mouthed the words about this being a long war and a long struggle...we've seen no increase, no change, no adaptability on the battlefield. We're still confused about the enemy...these adjustments, over four years, have not been made. We have to ask ourselves why."

After a long-ish commercial break, we returned to the promised Imus-discussing round-table. And wow, to our surprise, Tim dove right in:

"What a week for those of us here at NBC, I think, in the media community, in the country at large, debating the situation of Don Imus."

Perhaps not quite as effective on paper as on screen (watch here, if you like) however, we felt there was a sincerity to his tone that made it clear he was ready to take some hits.
Eugene Robison of the Washington Post spoke first about why the Imus debacle wasn't a question of free speech: "what we have here, really, is a story about how the country has changed about diversity and about...this could not have happened 50 years ago in quite the way it happened this week."
And then it was on to David Brooks, who, in the words of fellow Eat the Press contributor Ankush Khardori (sent to us via email early Sunday afternoon) was, "maddening and clueless as usual, with his trademark amateur sociologist routine to back it all up." (For some strange reason Brooks actually reminded us of our friend's father in high school who tried hard to act hip, while wearing badly fitting trousers).
Brook's immediately noted his excuse for appearing on the Imus show:

I, I, I have the lamest excuse for why I did it, which is I didn't know what he said.

We agree, lame excuse, a little bit like not inhaling. Anyway, this is what happened next:

MR. RUSSERT: But he [Imus] also would say he's equal opportunity, and I got, of--one who went on a lot on "Imus," poked fun after for being Irish, for being Catholic and a whole lot of other--for being "husky," as my mom would say.
But Gwen Ifill, yours truly, most of the major people at NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, CNN, PBS, New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, New Yorker, and yet, you, you write this: "Why do my journalistic colleagues appear on Mr. Imus' program? That's for them to defend, and others to argue about. I certainly don't know any black journalists who will."

MS. GWEN IFILL: You know, it's interesting to me. This has been an interesting week. The people who have spoken, people who have issued statements, the pop--the people who haven't. There's been radio silence from a lot of people who've done this program who could've spoken up and said, "I find this offensive" or "I didn't know." These people didn't speak up.

Tim, we didn't hear that much from you.

David, we didn't hear from you.

What was missing in this debate was someone saying, "You know, I understand that this is offensive."

[emphasis added]

Because we feel like Gwen Ifill deserves the last word here, we'll just say that, for us, the rest of the show somehow became less about the round-table hashing out the in's and out's of the Imus fall-out, and "what it all means", and more about the round-table seeking some sort of approval from Gwen Ifill. Strangely, Tim seemed less flummoxed by this than relieved, as if he had been hoping all along that someone would give him the what's what. Also, just out of curiosity, we'd like to know whether David Brooks realizes that Borat is a FICTIONAL character (Frank Rich does a good job of explaining the difference here).
But back to Gwen for the last, last word:

"A lot of people did know, and a lot of people were listening, and they just decided it was OK. They decided this culture of meanness was fine until they got caught. My concern about Mr. Imus and a lot of people and, and a lot of the debate in the society is not that people are sorry that they say these things. They're sorry that someone catches them."