O: As a widely-recognized “Best Political Journalist”, how did you manage to
achieve what you have done?
B: The first thing that I did every day was
to go to the Congress and various government agencies. I wanted those busy
congressmen to get to know me and trust me. The second thing was to show them my
interest and enthusiasm about the work they were doing, and to express my
willingness to understand and write accurately about their work. Gradually, I
won their trust and thus managed to get more information from them.
From an article eulogizing Tim Russert:
Sitting next to Tim many Sunday mornings on the NBC set, I had a close-up view
of his mind at work -- testing, probing, moving on. His questioning was
completely efficient but never officious. Both the viewers and the guests could
tell he really liked the newsmakers he was interviewing.
I am generally
a skeptic when it comes to the many people who jump from the political world
into television or punditry. I almost always suspect some of them are just
waiting to move back. But Tim was clearly smitten with his new world. He loved
his NBC buddies, and he bragged on them. He loved talking to that big audience,
sharing and showing off his political smarts.
He never would have left
journalism. Nothing else gave him that kind of charge. But as soon as the camera
lights went off at 10 a.m. on Sunday, he relaxed. Ali, the NBC butler, brought
out the platters of shrimp and glasses of juice, and the reporters who had been
on the roundtable (and sometimes the last interviewee) would join Tim and
executive producer Betsy Fischer for a lengthy exchange of political gossip.
When a birthday or anniversary was imminent, there would be cake. And at
Christmas, a brass ensemble would play carols.
From Sally Quinn's notorious article defining Village behavior:
"[President Clinton] came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington
Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."
Whatever is driving David Broder, he obviously feels a very strong proprietary interest in his little world of political and social insiders. To prosecute these elite is to threaten their way of life.
But having vowed to end the practices, Obama should use all the influence of his
office to stop the retroactive search for scapegoats.
This is not
another Sept. 11 situation, when nearly 3,000 Americans were killed. We had to
investigate the flawed performances and gaps in the system and make the
necessary repairs to reduce the chances of a deadly repetition.
memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy
decision, made in the proper places -- the White House, the intelligence
agencies and the Justice Department -- by the proper officials.
administration later, a different group of individuals occupying the same
offices has -- thankfully -- made the opposite decision. Do they now go back and
investigate or indict their predecessors?
That way, inevitably, lies
endless political warfare. It would set the precedent for turning all future
policy disagreements into political or criminal vendettas. That way lies untold
bitterness -- and injustice.
Suppose that Obama backs down and Holder or
someone else starts hauling Bush administration lawyers and operatives into
hearings and courtrooms.
Suppose the investigators decide that the
country does not want to see the former president and vice president in the
dock. Then underlings pay the price while big shots go free. But at some point,
if he is at all a man of honor, George W. Bush would feel bound to say: That was
my policy. I was the president. If you want to indict anyone for it, indict me.
Is that where we want to go? I don't think so. Obama can prevent it by
sticking to his guns.
Political warfare is not what David Broder does. Conflict is painful, and not conducive to pleasant talks with one's associates, as the butler hands 'round appetizers and drinks. Besides, it's more more fun to discuss the sins that others commit, instead of one's lack of responsibility. Sally Quinn acknowledged that the public cared less about Clinton's affair than the Villagers did, because the Villagers took it personally. Quinn also wrote:
NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell adds a touch of neighborly concern. "We all
know people who have been terribly damaged personally by this," she says. "Young
White House aides who have been saddled by legal bills, longtime Clinton
friends. . . . There is a small-town quality to the grief that is being felt, an
overwhelming sadness at the waste of the nation's time and attention, at the
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss sees this
scandal not only from a historical perspective but from a resident's. "There's
never been a sex scandal affecting a president while in office," he says. "In a
distilled way, the sense of centeredness, stability and order depends on who is
in the White House and what's going on there. When everything is turned upside
down it affects our psyche more than someone who might be farming in Wyoming."
Lloyd Cutler, former White House counsel to Presidents Carter and
Clinton and considered one of the few "wise men" left in Washington, gives yet
another reason why people take the scandal more seriously here. "This is an
excitement to us, a feeling of being in on it, and whichever part of the
Washington milieu we come from, we want to play a part. That's why we're here."
These people couldn't tolerate a little affair by the president, yet had no problem with torture. Torture happened to other people. The sniggering about Clinton happened to them. The image they want to project to the world of wise and thoughtful elites ruling the country with an iron fist in a velvet glove was damaged. Their feelings of importance were hurt, and that was infinitely more real to them than the screams and agonies of men tortured into madness.
"People felt a reverent attitude toward 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," says Tish
Baldrige, who once worked there as Jacqueline Kennedy's social secretary and has
been a frequent visitor since. "Now it's gone, now it's sleaze and dirt. We all
feel terribly let down. It's very emotional. We want there to be standards.
We're used to standards. When you think back to other presidents, they all had a
lot of class. That's nonexistent now. It's sad for people in the White House. .
. . I've never seen such bad morale in my life. They're not proud of their
They want to be proud of their position and place. They don't want unpleasantness. They ignored torture while it was happening or excused it away, and they are trying to ignore it now. The rabid hordes are eating up the torture revelations, examining them in minute detail to see how they can go back to the halycon days of advocating torture without getting criticized for it, but the Villagers are more interested in the status quo than imagining one's enemies in agony.
But nobody can admit that he just doesn't care what happens, as long as the money and respect and parties keep flowing. Nobody can say that torture is fine, as long as it's happening to someone else and one doesn't have to sully one's mind or relationships with any discussion of it. So the spin begins, the twisting and mitigating, the excusing and hand-waving. It amuses me to see Broder use the same justification as Our Megan, that the left acts not out of outrage at law-breaking and immorality and desire for law and order, but instead out of "an unworthy desire for vengeance." It's not a coincidence, however. Both are of relatively humble birth yet became part of the power elite, the part that keeps them in power by excusing away the elite's crimes. And they have every intention of staying there, no matter what fresh horror must be covered up to do so.