There has always been talk in Washington, DC as to whether or not Luke Russert can do his job at MSNBC. Despite very public dislike, he manages to stick around like Prince of Cockroaches after a nuclear explosion. I don't know how much of that is true, but as a Hill staffer, I've had one experience with him a few years ago that was an excrement-filled display of haphazard, freshman-level live broadcast journalism. (Don't worry. It wasn't obvious enough to make it on the Daily Show or for even the most diehard MSNBC fan to pick up on it.)
The worst part of my personal experience isn't how Russert screwed up but moreso how MSNBC handled my complaint.
The situation was typical: Boss (Member of Congress) introduced new legislation and on the same day does press outreach to promote his effort, which includes going on the Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd. This is a live interview at the top of the hour.
Two minutes before Boss goes on, he gets told, he'll have Russert instead of Todd. Ugh, I say, but there's nothing else to do about it. It's very clear from the start that Russert doesn't know what the fuck he's doing.
Here were his questions:
What's this bill about?
What does it do, Tom?
Do you support similar efforts?
I was on your website last night, and I didn't find any mention of it.
Are you going to introduce any other bills?
First, those are questions that could be asked of any Member of Congress, and none were specific to the issue at hand. (This is the journalistic equivalent of a student starting a presentation an hour before it's due.) Second, Boss's name wasn't Tom. Russert called Boss something similar. (Think Jane for Jean or Mike for Mark.) Third, Russert took three opportunities to remind us that he prepped for this interview the night before. Fourth, the reason Russert couldn't find anything on the website is because the bill hadn't been introduced yet. Times like this I wish I could reveal what Boss's face looked like right then, but it was something like this.
When I saw Boss next, I think he said the phrase "know nothing punk" at least a dozen times. Goddamn it was fucking hilarious.
The best part was when I went to call the producer to gently discuss the interview. Treading lightly, because I don't want to piss off a major cable network, I spoke with a smile, "That interview didn't go as well as it could have. Can we chat about it?" Up to this point, the producer had been sugary sweet and helpful. After I said that, I got silence, and then she responded in a very low and cold voice. She informed me that not only did she think the interview went well but that Russert always does a good job when doing the Daily Rundown. "He hit the tough issues." Uh sure. Before I could bring up the fact that he got Boss's name wrong, she said she had to go. The call didn't last 30 seconds.
I don't think this explains all the hate, but it does explain why many on Capitol Hill are quick to write off Russert. He's the epitome of nepotism, precisely because he's hasn't had to pay his dues the way the rest of the press core has and, if this experience is any indication, he's protected in a way others aren't. (The normal response is to sympathize, offer to correct or redo, and inform the higher ups.)
At times, I find the complaints ironic as this town was built on nepotism, but Russert's personality and gaffes are so much more visible than others. For a good time, check out the Gawker comments anytime his name is mentioned. The hate is as predictable as the sunrise.