I thought Obama held his own on "Meet the Press" yesterday, which is about the best one can hope for on that show. How we got to the point where one of the most important rituals in politics involves playing gotcha for an hour on network television is beyond me. It's a completely preposterous exercise, and Russert was closer to self-parody yesterday than I've seen him in a while. I can't recall a single question that straight-up asked Obama to lay out his first-order thoughts on an issue, as opposed to addressing some alleged inconsistency or hypocrisy. (There may have been one or two such questions, but, if so, they were completely overshadowed by the other exchanges.) Matt Yglesias sums it up better than I could:
Turning back to the Democrats, a serious question about Clinton's biofuels subsidies or Barack Obama's past support of coal gasification schemes might prompt some embarrassment and would be worth asking. But it would be bizarre to jump initially to these topics since they're less important than the more general issue of carbon caps and auctioned permits and voters deserve to hear about the important issues. But Russert wouldn't do it that it. It wouldn't be "tough" to provide politicians with an opportunity to explain their plans. Rather, the "tough" thing to do would be to leap straight ahead to whatever question is most likely to create problems for the politician irrespective of the importance of the issue. The reason, of course, is that Russert doesn't care -- at all -- about whether or not his actions inform the American electorate. Rather, he cares about creating a "news-making" event -- likely something embarrassing for the politician -- and about burnishing his reputation for toughness. He attracts a circle of admirers who share his perverse and unethical lack of concern for whether or not his work helps produce an informed public, gobs of less-prominent television journalists seek to emulate his lack of concern with informing the public, print journalists eagerly court opportunities to appear on the non-informative shows hosted by Russert and his emulators, and down the rabbit hole we go.
But he's tough.
And, while we're on the subject, I thought Russert's inquisitorial style in the Philadelphia debate two weeks ago was really over the line. Obviously Hillary's the front-runner, and, as such, she's got to take her lumps without complaining about it. But it really was absurd to see Russert subject her to the full gotcha treatment while more or less giving everyone else a pass.