Freedom/Privacy

Something else to learn from Tim Russert's death

by Brad Jacobson

Whatever issues people had with Tim Russert’s political coverage during the George W. Bush years (and I and many others outside the Beltway intelligentsia had many), I don’t wish to raise them now. First, I’d like to extend my condolences to Tim Russert’s family and friends. After watching the extensive and ongoing memorializing at MSNBC and NBC, it is clear that, despite what anybody thought of Russert as a journalist, he obviously had an incredibly positive impact on those closest to him – as a loving husband, father and son, as well as a supportive, good-natured and inspiring friend and colleague.

After days of eulogies on MSNBC and NBC and the subsequent response by some who feel the near 24/7 memorializing for Russert was overblown, I’m neither going to defend nor criticize the coverage. I’ll only say that I’m not sure how one dictates how others should mourn a loved one. On the other hand, it also seems natural that an overwhelming public display of mourning, such as what Russert received, might be viewed as excessive by those who were not close to him and/or who thought his overall contribution to society and the world at large was less than spectacular.

I’d prefer to offer a different perspective entirely, one that impacts all of us no matter how we received news of his death and what we thought of its coverage.

As I watched the outpouring of love and admiration for Tim Russert and the genuine sorrow over his sudden and shocking passing, I was reminded of lines from a column titled “In Honor of My Mother and the Power of Love,” which Norman Solomon wrote in January after he lost his mother, Miriam A. Solomon:

My mother did not die young (she was 86), but since then I’ve felt awful waves of sadness. And sometimes I think of people who are mourning loved ones of all ages, due to distinctly unnatural causes. The people dying in Iraq as a consequence of the U.S. war effort. The children in so many countries who lose their lives to the ravages of poverty. The health-care system in the United States that — in the absence of full medical coverage for everyone as a human right — means avoidable death and suffering on a large scale.

In mediaspeak and political discourse, the human toll of corporate domination and the warfare state is routinely abstract. But the results — in true human terms — add rage and more grief on top of grief.

It is a reality reflexively neglected in our mainstream media, and this neglect certainly desensitizes our citizens to the daily suffering of others, whether they live across town or in a different state, but especially if they live in another country, particularly one under military attack by the United States or its allies, or one suffering disproportionately due to unjust global economic policies or brutal human rights atrocities.

The corporate media, of course, is the prime enabler of this willful disregard, often overtly and subliminally inspiring its citizenry to not only believe ignorance is bliss but that “our way of life” – which, ironically, excludes millions of our own citizens – justifies the arbitrary humiliation, poverty, suffering and death of those who happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, whether drowning in New Orleans, freezing to death on a street corner, or, as soldier or civilian, being emancipated from life by freedom’s march in Iraq.

Still, if Solomon had said only that, if he had merely taken his personal mourning and applied it on a macro level to underscore the suffering and loss of those at home and abroad at the hands of “corporate domination and the warfare state,” his words might have remained too abstract for many Americans who have long been conditioned to accept “collateral damage” with little or no knowledge – or who have no desire to gain such terribly depressing knowledge – of actual human devastation.

Instead, Solomon brought it back home in an effort, to paraphrase Franz Kafka, to use his essay as “the ax for the frozen sea within us.” Solomon continued:

Our own mourning should help us understand and strive to prevent the unspeakable pain of others. And whatever love we have for one person, we should try to apply to the world.

Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. or Robert F. Kennedy circa 1968 could’ve written those words. Undoubtedly, such human beings, including Norman’s mother, inspired them – everyone who has come before us who pushed the human race to not only understand that strength can be shown through peace, compassion and justice but that often blind aggression actually reveals weakness, ignorance and cowardice.

In the closing lines of his column, Solomon wrote:

After my mother died, I learned about a poem that she wrote long ago — apparently soon after her father passed away [who, like Tim Russert, also died too young and was beloved by his family and friends]. The poem is titled “Bereavement.” Here is how it ends:

More than cherished memories are left
Behind; they leave us — us
To know our duties and our powers
And to carry on without much fuss.

In the crushing grief of the moment, we think of how
vital and good our
loved ones were,
and vow to be worthy of them.

I say let those who loved Tim Russert mourn him anyway they see fit. But an additional tribute to his loss would be to remain ever aware of how one person’s life can positively impact so many others and to actively see the media cover America and the world with this reality in mind, where every human life is afforded dignity and where no one’s suffering or death is coolly rationalized.

Where we all acknowledge and remain conscious of the fact that each of our loved ones leave us – us.

Cross-posted from MediaBloodhound.

3 replies »

  1. For me the issue isn’t about genuine mourning by friends and family and colleagues. That’s all more than appropriate, and even if it weren’t it’s sure as hell not my place to tell people how they ought to grieve.

    The issue is the public, institutional response from people who didn’t know him well enough to feel any kind of genuine grief. Russert was both a person and a public brand, and on the second component he was both liked and disliked for reasons that had to do with his role in our country’s distribution of power.

    I, for one, have a problem with institutional, political faux-grief. When somebody mourns the loss of a loved colleague, that is as it should be. When somebody mourns the loss of the power vested in a political ally that they barely knew at a genuinely personal level, but they treat it as though they just lost their best friend, then I’m a little bothered.

  2. Our own mourning should help us understand and strive to prevent the unspeakable pain of others. And whatever love we have for one person, we should try to apply to the world.

    Much as I respect Norman Solomon, that’s not gonna happen. We instinctively take our fellow Americans to task for the narcissistic nature of their nationalism. But few anywhere in the world are capable of concern about the suffering of those outside their groups, whether national, community or religious.

  3. “I say let those who loved Tim Russert mourn him anyway they see fit. But an additional tribute to his loss would be to remain ever aware of how one person’s life can positively impact so many others and to actively see the media cover America and the world with this reality in mind, where every human life is afforded dignity and where no one’s suffering or death is coolly rationalized.”

    Can’t agree with you more. One outcome of the present day sado-masochistic culture* is a suppression of natural outpourings of grief or other emotions for that matter. When we fear our own emotions and pain for far too long it becomes all to easy to ignore those of other societies and peoples. As Russ puts it …

    ” …. few anywhere in the world are capable of concern about the suffering of those outside their groups, whether national, community or religious.”

    Sad but true. Can’t agree with you more. Again not just an American condition, but we might as well try fixing our own roofs and hope that our neighbors will heed common sense too.

    * clarification: by the sado-masochistic culture I don’t mean literally and this is not an attack on anybody’s sexual preferences. The problem is not in that area, but when our daily lives become disturbing examples of role-playing where we refuse to question except to question those who dare otherwise. Think Scott McClellan vs the White House media hounds.

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