Exploiting Russert's death

NBC's Tim Russert died of a heart attack on Friday. Only the deaf, dumb and blind can be unaware of this fact. Ever since the unfortunate death of one of the major players in the field of media and politics, non-stop media coverage has drummed this fact home to millions of Americans. Enough, already.

This media coverage, still going strong, is becoming quite unseemly. Granted, Russert seemed an affable, good man. I could see this in his eyes the few times I saw him on television. Granted, his death was a shock. A shock that affected me personally, even though I never met the man, as it rudely reminded me of the fragility of life and the importance of time. He died too soon, and if it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. Life is not fair.

That said, the continuing coverage of his death has turned into a circus. It is no longer about Tim Russert.

In a frantic rush to burnish their own social credentials, scores of B and C list players are desperately maneuvering to get coveted national face time. "Tim was a good friend of mine" is the pass word of the day as the networks fill hour after hour with the burnished recollections of has-beens, wanna-bes and actual sorrowing friends.

These tales, the cute stories, the hitherto unknown tidbits issuing forth ad naseum are less about Tim Russert than about the blind scramble by hangers-on to be considered part of the story, to be considered 'still relevant' by virtue of their association with a beloved media figure.

The coverage of Russert's death has ceased being about celebrating the life and mourning the death of Tim Russert. Instead, it has evolved into a platform designed to assure fragile egos that they, the media, are still relevant. Every morning talk show, every channel on every network is indulging in a mass celebration of their own importance. And they're using Tim Russert's death to do it.

This orgy of sentiment feels wrong to this writer. Sincere feelings of loss and sadness are to be expected when a respected personage dies before his time. But the orchestrated outpouring currently monopolizing the airwaves is saying more about the media itself than the death of Russert.

The rush to televise what should normally be private feelings of loss has cheapened Russert's passing. Just as it cheapens every celebrity who decided to use his passing to bolster their own credentials. 

If I had been lucky enough to have known Russert personally and been his friend, I would hesitate to make hay from his death. I most certainly wouldn't use a personal tragedy to assure myself and the nation that I'm special by virtue of being part of his circle. Color me old fashioned. 

I'd put my ego on hold out of respect. Respect for a man who accomplished much. Respect for a man who valued family and tried to be the best he could be. That's all I know about Tim Russert. The cute stories and humble monologues from Russert's supposed friends and colleagues tell me more than I want to know about them.

I'll remember Tim Russert because of the look in his eye. He looked happy and at ease with himself and the world. That is one of life's most important achievements. I'm sad for him and his family. His family that is rightly doing their mourning in private.