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October 10, 2015

Stump the King: Tim Russert

by Paul Goebel, posted Jun 23rd 2008 1:06PM

Tim RussertI'd like to begin this week's offering by adding my thoughts on the untimely death of Tim Russert. I didn't know him personally, so anything I could say about the man would pale in comparison to all the nice things his friends and co-workers have already said.

What I will say is that the irony of Russert dying on Father's Day weekend so soon after writing his book, Big Russ and Me (which chronicled his life with his father as well as his son Luke), is so thick that twenty years from now, it will be hard to believe that it happened the way that it did.

As a guy who rarely watches the news and gets most of my information from The Daily Show, I appreciated Russert's informative and entertaining style of reporting.

What I want to focus on this week is the lameness of TV Guide. I have subscribed to TV Guide for years and throughout all of its changes, I have generally found it to be the best source for TV related news as well as TV listings. However, the one thing that has always bugged me about the magazine is how few of their writers have a sense of humor. While Matt Roush delivers brilliant opinions with a few witty comments, the bulk of their employees are so incredibly unfunny that I wonder how the editors can justify letting their staff fail so miserably.

Case in point is this week's TV Guide. In the Cheers and Jeers column (which I generally enjoy), Bruce Fretts gives Jon Stewart a well-earned Cheer for his interview with Scott McClellan on The Daily Show. He points out specific elements of the interview that made it particularly entertaining, but ends the item with the challenge, "Top that, Russert!"

Now clearly, there is no way that Mr. Fretts could have known that Tim Russert would pass away before this issue went on the newsstands but it helps to serve my point. Was the slim chance that someone would actually find his comment funny worth the risk?

Not to compare the two, but after 9/11, many TV shows and movies went unproduced because they were viewed as bad taste after what happened. This is not to say the projects were no longer funny -- they were just harder to watch and therefore less viable. A lame comment like "Top that, Russert" is already offensive to anyone with a sense of humor. The fact that it's inadvertently disrespectful just makes it that much worse.

Now for this week's question...

Tim Russert is the cousin of which fictional TV character?

Congratulations Jere! Megan Russert is correct.

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Of course, it's awkward to have made a joke at the expense of a dead person, especially one as highly revered as Russert. But it's not disrespectful, especifically if your "joke" is actually indirect praise, as it seems Kirby (and I) understood the comment.

With regards to your mention of 9/11. Yes, the reaction displayed by most of the comedy world was respectful and appropriate in the wake of 9/11. But how can you use that to argue against a perceived "joke" made before the - at the time - highly unlikely and tragic event that is Russert's death.

Wouldn't your reasoning prohibit any and all jokes involving contemporary living persons in print magazines, and other similarly delayed mediums, due to the risk of the target's intervening death before the magazine reaches its readers? And how about things that might possibly happen in the meantime? That's just... Wow... Something I'd regard as lame humor.

And finally, how is Bruce Fretts "joke" at Russert's expense any worse than your use of him in this week's question?

June 23 2008 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I read the line entirely differently than you do. It's not intended as a lame joke, or a joke at all. Tim Russert was well known as someone who could do an interview where he really went after someone on substantive claim, while still being fair and decent to them as a person. Jon Stewart's interview with Scott McClellan was, in that sense, very Russertian. The comment is an acknowledgment that Stewart was using a similar style, and surpassing the main practitioner of it in this instance.

It'd be like if Clint Eastwood announced he were to star in a new trilogy of Dirty Harry movies, and wasn't going to use a stunt double. You could say, "Top that, Harrison Ford!" alluding to his recent reprisal of Indiana Jones.

It's still not a particularly stunning line, but I don't think it means what you think it means.

June 23 2008 at 2:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Detective Russert on Homicide: Life on the Streets! Love that show!!!

June 23 2008 at 1:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Russert from Homicide

June 23 2008 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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