There is something odd about us Americans that requires heroification upon the death of many famous people. No, heroification isn’t a real word, it is one made up by one of my favorite authors, James W. Loewen, author of the book “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” http://www.amazon.com/Lies-My-Teacher-Told-Everything/dp/0684818868 . Loewen describes heroification as “a degenerative process (much like calcification) that makes people over into heroes. Through this process, our educational media turns flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility or human interest”. Loewen remarks that when we learn about people like George Washington, Helen Keller and other famous Americans, we get this one-sided, biased version of the person without their faults and controversies. These historic Americans don’t even seem like real people they are so heroified. As Loewen rightly points out, this disrespects both the historical figures and those who want to learn about them.
My 6/14/08 article on Tim Russert: “Tim Russert - A Good Man but Biased Journalist” http://www.opednews.com/articles/Tim-Russert---A-Good-Man-b-by-Steven-Leser-080614-336.html generated a huge amount of controversy. I received a lot of negative feedback, criticism and in some cases wishes for my death. Many more people spoke up in my defense. The origins of this controversy are completely lost on me. Russert was a person that had a huge impact on major American and global issues and politics of the last ten years. At a time when so many are talking about him, it seems only appropriate to me that everyone be able to inject their opinion concerning what that impact was. I started to become aware of Russert’s particular impact during the Clinton/Lewinsky impeachment scandal.
In my opinion, the only proper response to that scandal by someone like a Russert, or any other talking head would be to say “Obviously, the person is a scoundrel as far as their personal life is concerned, but I am not sure why we are covering this. This has nothing to do with the execution of Bill Clinton’s job as President”. That isn’t what Russert did. As I pointed out in my above linked article, Russert couldn’t get enough of talking about the Lewinsky scandal. He loved it so much he raised it as an issue when he moderated Hillary Clinton’s debates in 2000 and 2008. That isn’t what I would expect from someone that is being lauded as the messiah of the field like the mainstream journalism community is doing with Russert. Russert isn’t the only one guilty of eschewing more relevant issues to talk about the more titillating and superficial story of a President getting oral sex from a consenting adult, but he is the one whose lifetime contributions are being discussed right now.
That coverage damaged Al Gore’s efforts to become Clinton’s successor and resulted in the current court jester occupying 1600 Pennsylvania avenue who has ruined our economy, lied us into a quagmire in the Middle East and hurt our image all over the globe. Along the way, Russert and others abrogated their duties to ask relevant questions about our headlong march to war, the Patriot act and warrant-less spying on American citizens, involved themselves in a shameful effort to destroy the life and career of a covert CIA agent and on and on.
Journalists of Russert’s power and stature have a tremendous responsibility to which he did not come close to living up. If the Russerts and Brokaws and others refuse to ask the relevant questions of and about those who hold the reigns of power, how is the general public supposed to learn the timely truth about anything that is being done in their name?
All of this, however, is secondary to the main point of this follow-up article. I don’t believe people like me should be censored or pressured to self censor at any time when they are discussing what they/we believe is the truth about powerful figures. When you get to that level of prominence and impact, you give up the right to that sort of genteelness. It is much too important that we have honest discussions about what powerful people are doing and have done. It’s recognized as being so important, in fact, that under the law, figures of Russert’s stature as well as elected officials do not have the same libel and slander protection that other people enjoy. But for the record, my article of Saturday June 14 that contains no less than fourteen citations to back up my assertions wouldn’t come close to being libelous regardless of the relaxed standard in the case of someone like a Russert. I feel some level of sadness if my article hurt or offended anyone, but that sadness is tempered by my absolute belief in the need to speak the truth and have that truth reflected in the historical record.