As much as I liked newly deceased Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert, NBC's hour-long farewell Friday night and "celebration" on Sunday went so far over the top with bathos as to make me want to join a choir of Munchkins for a rousing chorus of "Ding, dong, Tim Russert's dead" (to the tune of The Wizard Oz's "The Witch Is Dead").
The Friday special ran out of original material about 10 minutes into the program and by Sunday so much had been printed, posted and broadcast about Saint Russert that only some Afghan villager hiding in the Tora Bora caves would not have heard every last possible cliché available.
Yet anchor Tom Brokaw continued the death march into banality with his demand for "no tears,"a decree he telegenically broke in a transparent -- and desperate -- play for ratings.
The two "tributes" struck me as tasteless as the tons of unwrapped flowers piled on the Buckingham Palace mound of mush after the death of Princess Diana, a woman far more celebrated for far fewer accomplishments than Russert's.
The best tribute to Russert would have been to get on with the show.
Brokaw, or someone who could interview without a script, should have faced some policymaker who had something substantive and mildly original to say about some topic other than the personal trivia of a newscaster who had barely missed becoming a twinkie, just as he was dangerously en route to becoming one. (In case you don't know, "twinkie" is print journalese for on-camera broadcast news figures: blond on the outside, fluffy on the inside.)
Let's be clear: I have nothing against Russert.
Russert was entertaining and had some pointed questions (though I found his quizzing of Condoleeza Rice on running for president a bit of dead-horse beating). He did his job reasonably well for one of the few people in journalism with a multi-million-dollar salary. So?
Also, my goodness, he died pretty much at his desk, at 58, of a heart attack. Is it that so surprising for a man as obviously overweight as he was? My own father, whose figure matched Russert's, died at 59 three decades ago. I myself am only two years younger than Russert was, and I have struggled to lose 35 pounds in the past year -- with hope for more -- precisely to avoid a similar fate. Yet ... who knows?
In the end, where was the news here? Someone, tell me, please!
Besides, what was so startling about Russert, after all? Russert was a lawyer, a former aide to powerful politicians, then one of the suits in the NBC corporate suites. Only someone with that combination of connections could have parlayed just a few years of back room "journalism" experience into a 17-year gig in a prime public affairs television slot.
Sorry, but I don't see material for sainthood there.
Russert's Sunday television cortege was also pathetic. Led by a man whose chief talent is being able to read on camera, accompanied by an alleged historian accused of plagiarism whose first splash in publishing was the gossip she heard as a White House intern (remind you of someone?), along with a Washington "power couple" no one has bet a plugged nickel on for years, and yes, the obligatory token black face to pretend that Washington's white elite establishment isn't.
What wisdom did these individuals have to impart?
Then again, who were we mourning? A great man of letters, a jurist who had defined complex issues, an engineer who had built a new marvel, a scientist who had found a cure? No, just an overweight, middle aged guy who parlayed influence into TV celebrity. Period.
Tim Russert was probably a nice guy to his dog, if he had one. I'm sure his family will miss him. Still, in a world with serious problems (which, admittedly, his work sometimes helped illuminate), was his death worth endless repetition of mediocre quotes?
I'd like to think he would say no. Except ... I did note that the Sunday show billed Tim Russert as managing editor. Did he script his own televised obituary? I don't know and I would rather not find out. I've had my fill of Tim Russert for a while.