Reassigning Tim Russert

Those who offer suggestions to the Washington media need not worry that their advice will be taken. The mental grooves here are worn too deep, and self-importance serves to set them in concrete. The only cause for hope is that time still passes. In journalism, as in physics, bad ideas generally don’t concede; they succumb to a new generation. As the current Washington guard inches towards its golden years, there is at least a possibility that something new will push through the concrete. We might be wary of high tech “cures” for aging. Do we really want another 200 years of John MacLaughlin and George Will?

So for the record, as it were, here are nine suggestions the media will ignore.


Clueless in Seattle

The cover of Newsweek seemed dredged from the archives of 1968. Anguished protestors manhandled by police in riot gear – one almost expected pictures of Black Panthers and LBJ inside. The scene of course was Seattle, and the protests at the World Trade Organization meeting there. But the visual reference to the 1960s was deliberate. Newsweek, like most of the major media, wanted to portray the protests as violent, threatening, irrational, and just a little deranged.

We could write this off to the corporate media’s congenital instinct for gore, or to aging baby boom editors who are mentally frozen in the political psychodramas of their youth. Yet the very next week, the cover of another news weekly suggested that more was involved. Time magazine’s person of the year was not someone who had labored for the well-being of humanity. It was Jeffrey Bezos, the founder of, who is seeking to put your local bookstore out of business and whose mission in life is to sell a lot of stuff.


Just the Facts?



The problem is not just smart-alecky journalists who grind their axes on the front page. The tendentious numb-brained quality of much American journalism today is largely a product of its forms. Daily journalism is frozen in a set of rituals and conventions that preclude nuance and provide formalistic cover for lazy thinking and reporting.

A few suggestions.

Ditch the Inverted Pyramid. This antiquated form requires that a story be about one thing, called the lead. It pushes the reporter to highlight the egregious–the outrageous charge, the gaffe–and often the irrelevant. The relentless built-in metronome sends the story barreling past the questions that are screaming to be raised. Instead there is ritualistic balance in the form of opposing (and generally imbecilic) quotes.