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TIM WAS GROWING AN OLD DOG NOW! Russert slept at one guest’s feet. But then he chased after another: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2005

DODGED BY RAHM: We agree with Josh Marshall; Rahm Emanuel’s Meet the Press outing was little short of disastrous. When it came to the war in Iraq, Emmanuel still hasn’t moved beyond the inept talking-point which helped cost Kerry the last election. On Social Security, he hemmed and hawed, evaded, dodged and weaved. Recently, we heard Rahm described as the House Dems’ new message-man. It will have to get better than this.

But when it came to Social Security, Rahm’s assignment wasn’t as easy as Marshall might seem to suggest. Rahm was being hunted down by press corps attack-dog Timothy Russert, and Russert’s performance this day was so absurd that it deserves recording. Repeatedly, Russert hounded Emanuel about a past statement by Bill Clinton, hoping to trap him in one of the “gotcha” moments that have become this show’s goony trademark. But by contrast, how did Russert conduct himself when he interviewed White House uber-shill Dan Bartlett? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but as we’ll see in a moment or two, the contrast was rather profound.

How did Russert approach Rahm on Social Security? The fabled attack-dog was instantly yapping. Here was his opening question:

RUSSERT (1/16/05): Let me turn to Social Security and put a quote up on the board.“...the looming fiscal crisis in Social Security. ...If nothing is done by 2029, there will be a deficit in Social Security trust fund, which will either require...a huge tax increase in the payroll tax, or just about a 25 percent cut in Social Security benefits.”Do you agree with that?
Of course, Russert’s question didn’t make too much sense. No one agrees with the quoted statement, because the statement’s use of the year 2029 identifies it as a blast from the past, when SS trustees were citing that year as the year when the system’s trust fund would expire. In fact, this quotation came from a speech by Bill Clinton on February 9, 1998. So why was Russert quoting the speech? Because today, most Dems say (correctly, in our view) that there isn’t a “looming crisis” in Social Security. Russert wanted to play “gotcha” with Rahm, catching him in a contradiction with something his former boss said.

And make no mistake, the Nantucket bulldog was especially rabid this past Sunday morning—when it came to pursuit of this statement by Clinton. Emmanuel tried to slip-slide away from the proffered quotation, but the fabled attack-dog kept bringing it up. In fact, Russert returned to the statement three separate times before he could bring down his prey:

RUSSERT (second approach): But do you believe there is a looming fiscal crisis in Social Security?

RUSSERT (third approach): But I'm going to bring you back to that quote. Do you agree that if we do nothing, we'll have to either raise taxes or cut benefits?

RUSSERT (fourth approach): But the question—what that quote said—

EMANUEL: Who's that quote—the quote is from?

RUSSERT: Let me show you.

EMANUEL: No. Who's it from, I asked.

RUSSERT: Let me show you.

EMANUEL: OK.

RUSSERT: William Jefferson Clinton!

Finally, Russert nabbed his prey, as well-trained retrievers often do in the waters off his adopted Nantucket. “There is a looming fiscal crisis. We either have to cut benefits or raise taxes,” Russert triumphantly said once again. “Do you agree with your former employer?” Emanuel had no good reply, so he hemmed and hawed, dodged, weaved and wandered.

Yes, Russert was eager to nail an embarrassing quote—when the embarrassment would go to a Democrat. But what had occurred in his program’s first half, when uber-shill Bartlett had been his guest? In that segment, attack-dog Russert had played powdered poodle, pandering to his slick-talking guest. In particular, embarrassing quotes were MIA when Russert quizzed Bartlett on Social Security. Weird, isn’t it? A tired old house pet curled up for Bartlett. When Emanuel arrived, he attacked.

And it isn’t as if the Meet the Press host lacked for embarrassing quotes to pursue. Earlier in the week, Bush had made a string of wild misstatements about SS—statements which were wildly misleading at best, and, at worst, were outright lies. How absurd were Bush’s statements? On this very same Sunday morning, his misstatements were aggressively challenged on Fox, a channel which loves the man dearly! (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/18/05.) But somehow, the virile bulldog who would chase after Rahm was missing in action when Bartlett appeared. When the discussion turned to Social Security, Russert lobbed four semi-softballs at Dan. (Two of the questions had been asked many times in the past.) He followed up on none of Bartlett’s responses. And Bush’s embarrassing quotes—from the week before!—somehow escaped any mention.

So there you see the face of Tim Russert, money-bag mogul from wind-swept Nantucket. An awkward, seven-year-old quote is chased down—because the quote came from Bill Clinton. But Bush’s wild quotes, from the week before? They’re passed by without any notice. A tired old housedog slept on the rug, safe at the feet of his upper-class masters. Big moguls chase Democrats out on Nantucket, and a well-trained bulldog knew he should snarl only when Rahm came to visit.

TIM WAS GROWING AN OLD DOG NOW: Like you, we thought of chapter 6 of Virginia Woolf’s Flush when we saw Russert doze at the feet of his master. Woolf describes the valedictory years of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s pet spaniel:

WOOLF: Flush was growing an old dog now. The journey to England and all the memories it revived had undoubtedly tired him. It was noticed that he sought shade rather than the sun on his return, though the shade of Florence was hotter than the sun of Wimpole Street. Stretched beneath a statue, couched under the lip of a fountain for the sake of a few drops that spurted now and again on his coat, he would lie dozing by the hour.
So Tim stretched and dozed with Bartlett. But then, the newsman started awake when Emanuel appeared on the set. Pages later, describing Flush’s final run home, Woolf captured that moment too:
WOOLF: Whatever it was, he woke from his dream in a state of terror. He made off as if he were flying to safety, as if he were seeking refuge. The market women laughed and pelted him with rotten grapes and called him back. He took no notice...Whatever it was, he went in a bee-line up one street and down another until he reached the door of Casa Guidi. He made his way straight upstairs and went straight into the drawing room.
As instinct revived the dozing Flush, so too instinct seemed to rouse Russert. There was something about his second guest that called back his old hunting instincts.

I WANT TO GROW UP TO BE JUST LIKE SEAN: By the way, how far has Russert descended? In offering Rahm that blind Clinton quote, he was stealing a page from the Hannity play-book! Hannity plays this trick all the time (but only on Democrats, of course). It’s amazing to see Russert mime him.