His name was Tim Russert and he was as fine an example of the art of journalism as any known in the history of its craft.
I only truly was introduced to Russert recently, as a supervisor at work had (in light of my growing interest in the political state of our country) suggested I begin to watch Meet the Press. I had always known he was around, even if I had not known his name. However, he always did seem to know just the right thing to say and the right time to say it.
It wasn't until his death this past Friday that I realized the man had begun to become a bit of a hero to me and I'll admit the loss of his wisdom and enthusiasm hit me hard. It struck me that in these days of partisan broadcasting and spin to the point of propaganda, that objective journalism is becoming a trait all too rare.
I am a person to whom the truth is very important, as philosophically elusive as such a thing is. That being said, the reason I chose not to attempt to get an internship at a broadcasting network upon my graduation from film school should be fairly clear. As I once put it: "If I'm going to be creating fiction, I'd rather be honest about it." It struck me, while learning about the nature of broadcast news, that the spin put on a piece from the way it is presented to the way it is edited can make the best of Hollywood seem more accurate than the nightly news.
And so in my love of honesty, though I would never claim to be a wholly honest person in my own right, it strikes me just how the twisting of facts as well as outright lies can be spread so maliciously with intent to undermine and manipulate our own free will and the well being of our nation.
We live in a time where we are fighting two wars, at least one of which (the steadily growing evidence would seem to point out) that the men and women we have chosen to safeguard and represent us have mislead us into with half-truths and omissions of information that we, as citizens of this supposed Democracy, should have been informed of.
The war in Iraq is taxing our military strength, it is taxing our political good will, it is taxing our economy, and it is taxing the men and women of our armed forces who are being shipped overseas time and time again while injured or sick with both physical and psychological ailments.
And yet the current administration wishes to extend this endeavor with over 50 permanent military bases and demands for the total immunity of our troops (as well as the non-enlisted mercenary armed forces currently occupying the country) from any crime. This wish, I might add, which is in direct conflict to the wishes of the Iraqi people or the sovereignty of the democracy we have tried to help them construct.
All the while this is being sold to the American people as a good idea, a safe idea, in the best interests of the United States, despite the fact that it would only tax our economy further as well as cost us in the lives of our brave men and women currently serving there. It is being said this is so that we can ensure that Iran will not grow stronger in power, as the administration continues to make motions towards Iran with similar strong speech as it made toward Iraq before we invaded; sometimes nearly word for word rhetoric as the statements which by all accounts wrongfully sold the American public on this strategic misstep.
Perhaps more disturbing still is the implication that the insistence on continued military presence is a matter of hubris; so that our troops may return home "victorious" and with a moral affirmation that these deeds needed to be done. As if a continued, increasingly, unwanted interference with another nation should be ignored in the face of justifying protecting the men and women from a loss of morale or, worse, the sort of backlash the nation saw towards veterans in the wake of Vietnam.
For the record, I do not believe anyone in their right mind blames the troops, who are simply following orders, for the mistakes of the men and women responsible for handing them these orders. At least those conducting themselves in a civil and respectful fashion of the people they are supposedly there to protect.
Respect is another thing that we need to address in these days. Tying into the propaganda and fear mongering machine in the years post 9/11 has been the growing fear of practitioners of the Muslim religion due to the violent and devastating acts of a few radical groups seeking to twist the beliefs of their fellow men and women towards ends directly contradictory to their beliefs. It is much like the Catholic Church manipulated the Crusaders into acts of war in direct violation to the Bible's Ten Commandments for trading, wealth, and political power.
These perversions do not make the religions themselves hateful, destructive, things; simply the puppet masters manipulating believers to their own gain. And so it strikes me how the manipulation of people in yet another way can use the manipulations to manipulate.
A friend of mine recently said something that struck me rather sharply. He said, in response to a video clip I has sent him partially in jest of Presumptive Republican Nominee and Vietnam Veteran John McCain admitting he does not know how to use a computer without assistance, "I don't care, I'm still voting for McCain. Obama's a Muslim loyalist and he doesn't hold American Values."
This statement was made by a friend, whom I hold to be intelligent, and as such I was shocked and I was shocked for two reasons.
Firstly, because the statement would seem to assume that to be loyal to practitioners of the Muslim religion was a practice that was not "American" in nature; and secondly, taking into account that the term "Muslim" in this case was to be a substitution for the Arab Nations of the Middle East, it directly contradicts everything I know of Senator Obama.
In response to my request, he claimed to have read the Senator's book "The Audacity of Hope" and within it, he claimed, Obama stated "I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." This given to me with a further emphasis on pointing out that he did not say "With the Americans"; as if the concept that an American could be a practicing Muslim was one that was entirely foreign and that the religion itself stands in contention with the United States itself.
The actual passage in "The Audacity of Hope" (from pages 260-261) reads as such:
"Whenever I appear before immigrant audiences, I can count on some good-natured ribbing from my staff after my speech; according to them, my remarks always follow a three-part structure: "I am your friend," "[Fill in the home country] has been a cradle of civilization," and "You embody the American dream." They're right, my message is simple, for what I've come to understand is that my mere presence before these newly minted Americans serves notice that they matter, that they are voters critical to my success and full-fledged citizens deserving of respect.
"Of course, not all my conversations in immigrant communities follow this easy pattern. In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific assurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." (For more information visit http://www.fightthesmears.com)This is, of course, a fairly significant deviation.
The problem here lies actually less in the misquoting and more the fear mongering that can be seen in the implications of the Muslim religion and the claimed adversarial relationship with the United States of America. It is this use of fear as a weapon that is allowing the manipulation of US citizens to beliefs that people of Arabian decent are potentially dangerous simply because of their heritage. A claim, I might add, which is exactly the type of thing Senator Obama had been speaking of when he referred to the internment of the Japanese American citizens in World War II. And, I might add, it is directly in conflict of the very core of what this nation is built upon as it was founded by people seeking to escape religious persecution.
I can state in all honestly that I found the implication that Muslims are inherently terrorists offensive and unworthy of the decency of the person whom had delivered them to me.
I've also been taking a passing interest in the politics surrounding the early to mid 1950's. Something I may yet attest to sleeping in a room with wood paneling on my walls. Specifically, I’ve been teaching myself a little about the Senator Joseph McCarthy hearings, and most recently, the journalist Edward R. Murrow. Just tonight I watched the film "Good Night, and Good Luck" directed by George Clooney. It's a film about the stand Murrow took in 1954 in calling out McCarthy on his ignoring of the people he was accusing of being Communists' Civil Liberties.
It strikes me that certain similarities exist today, as the administration secretly sets telecom companies to spy on people without warrant or any public knowledge being shared thereof simply on the suspicion of possible terrorist activity. Then there are the reports of totally innocent people being impeded by the "No Fly List" list when they have committed no acts connecting them to terrorist activity. A problem I might add, which Steve Kroft of CBS's 60 Minutes recently reported on.
So it strikes me the biggest problem we may face is letting people of dubious intentions manipulate us into acting upon our fears to further surrender our Civil Liberties, and falling prey to rumors and lies that we hear or read in e-mails, newsletters or even on television and radio without making any effort to research them to check their legitimacy; and thus falling prey to the partisan attacks that are not inherent to any one political party but amoral politics in general.
In closing I'd like to quote Edward R. Murrow's comments in regards to Sen McCarthy. Though the situation and intention of the words may not be entirely the same, I believe the message of them resonates in current events still.
"His primary achievement has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular...
...The actions of the junior Senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn't create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it -- and rather successfully. Cassius was right. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves."
And so, in tribute to Ed Murrow, much as Keith Olbermann states at the end of his show every night:
Good night, and good luck.