We gave ourselves the weekend off from Meet the Press. Over at Daily Howler, Bob Somerby's recounting of the exchange between Tim Russert and Rep. Nancy Pelosi makes us that much more comfortable with our decision not to watch.
Russert has developed a reputation as Sunday morning's toughest talk show host, confronting guests with snippets of their own words or articles that seem to catch guests in contradictions. That's all well and good. But Russert's questioning of Pelosi over the weekend came off more like editorializing. Not well and good for a show that's supposed to be even-handed.
Russert began with his trademark, "Let me show you and our viewers something that you said on May 20 and give you a chance to talk about it." The comments in question were Pelosi's candid remarks questioning the president's competence, judgment, experience and leadership abilities in light of how he's handled the Iraq situation. "That's pretty strong," Russert said.
Pelosi's response was that yes, her statement was strong, and made with "great reluctance and after a long period of time of asking the administration where their plan was." Pelosi went on to defend her frank remarks. To paraphrase: We put the troops in harm's way for a war that was the president's choice. We told the troops they'd be greeted with rose-petals, they were greeted with rocket-propelled grenades. We said Iraq could finance its own reconstruction and instead we're down $200 billion and growing. We didn't adequately prepare for post-Saddam Iraq. We did not adequately equip our troops, either, which has made them more vulnerable.
Russert may have given Pelosi "a chance to talk about her remark," he didn't seem to listen. Pelosi spoke about dangerous policy blunders and instead of engaging her on those serious issues right away, Russert chose to take a page from Tom DeLay and begin his questioning by asking unanswerable questions that implied she had nerve for making her remarks at all, and that her brazenness is actually giving a hand to al-Qaida.
RUSSERT: What message does this send to the troops in Iraq when the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives says that the commander in chief is not a leader, has no judgment, no experience and no knowledge? How does that make the troops feel?
RUSSERT: What do you think the people leading the resistance in Iraq or al-Qaeda think when they hear the ranking Democrat in the House say that President Bush has no knowledge, no experience, no judgment?
Perhaps Tim Russert was just playing devil's advocate here, defining "tough questioning" as confronting his guest with whatever opposing view he could find. But really, Russert just ended up parroting the Republican attack on Pelosi and promoting a dangerous trend -- suggesting that questioning or criticizing Bush, a right and honestly, a duty, in a democracy, is equal to hurting the troops and abetting terrorists.