I Love Tim Russert, but...

OK. Let me be clear: I think Tim Russert is one of the best interviewers in the business, past or present. “Meet the Press” is a tremendous show. His research is impeccable, his preparation is always strong and thorough. His fairness and impartiality are almost always on display. And, no question, he is tough!

But … last night I found myself looking at the clock during the Nevada debate at precisely 9:30, half an hour into the program, and pacing as I realized that we had been bombarded with insider, tit-for-tat questions and not a single substantive question on issues that voters actually care about. My agitation was clearly visible to my wife, who bore the brunt of my tirade. The economy, the war, energy policy, education, jobs, the Middle East, Pakistan — none of those issues had been covered (though, naturally, they did come up later on). It was unfortunate because viewers and voters want to see the candidates discuss more than parsing past statements and who threw the latest political punch.

I do think this is something that reporters should pay particular attention to and be sensitive about as they grill the candidates and have the luxury of one to two hours with the next president of the United States. We do spend too much time with side concerns such as a candidate tearing up, what an aide’s campaign memo says, driving wedges with partial quotes. Having said that, the debate itself did turn out to be a civil and illuminating discussion — once we got to the issues!

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