All over the blogosphere, people are mourning the death of Tim Russert, and I'm over here scratching my head.
I do think it's horrible when someone relatively young dies suddenly. My former hairstylist died recently--she was 32 with a two-year-old son. I truly feel for and sympathize with his family, friends, and colleagues, people who knew him and worked with him and loved him.
But I'm not of the school that says it's inappropriate to address the less-than-positive aspects of a public figure's legacy at the time of their death. I was appalled when Ronald Reagan died at the way an ethically and intellectually bankrupt hypocrite was transformed into Saint Ronnie. And so, when I read comments describing Russert as, "the steadiest and most serious inquisitor of the powerful during the darkening period when broadcast journalism was degenerating beyond parody", I have to say, "Huh?"
Russert was one of the Beltway Villagers who repeatedly enabled the Bush administration, never challenging them on the expansion of the unitary executive, or the case for attacking Iraq. Dick Cheney once said that he liked going on Meet the Press because he knew he wouldn't get challenged. And instead of asking questions about policy when he moderated the Democratic debates, it was all about "gotcha" questions for both candidates and getting Obama to "reject and denounce" every black person who's ever said anything controversial ever.
Is it sad that Tim Russert's dead? Of course, as it is any time someone who was by all accounts a decent person dies. But that doesn't mean that he was a journalistic paragon, or that we should pretend he was simply because he's no longer here.