I used to be a television producer. I know lots of television producers. And I can tell you flat-out: The suggestion that there's something unusual, never mind ominously un-American, about cutting off a taped, satellite interview when it's run too long is such nonsense it doesn't pass the giggle test.
All that's unusual here is that it happened to Russert. Indeed, he says, "It was my first time in 13 years of doing 'Meet the Press' that a press aide has actually tried to pull the plug on an interview."
I'm sure that's true.
I could forgive Russert for not knowing how unremarkable all this is, since he basically started at the top at NBC. A former aide to former Governor Mario Cuomo and the late, great, Pat Moynihan, he didn't learn the TV ropes from the bottom up. Still, I find it hard to believe that in his time with Cuomo or Moynihan he never saw an interview cut short by a "taxpayer-paid employee," including, perhaps, himself.
I mean: How many times have we seen press aides say, "No more questions"?
Russert's gratuitous praise of Powell is even odder. "We appreciate Secretary Powell's willingness to overrule his press aide's attempt to abruptly cut off our discussion as I began to ask my final question," Russert officiously intoned to the camera. "Secretary Powell was really stand-up. He was a general and took charge," he told the Post and others.
Yes, hooray for the most popular political figure in America having the warrior's courage to overrule a flunky in favor of America's arguably most powerful pundit.
Now, I should say that I think Russert's a decent guy and, more important, is good at his job. Also, his high ratings are attributable in no small part to the fact that conservatives and liberals alike consider him an honest and straightforward journalist.
Nevertheless, political bias is different than ego bias. And the only "news management gone berserk" here is the preposterous notion that upsetting Tim Russert is the same thing as trampling free speech.
Only Russert and one or two other 800-pound media gorillas could make such a claim without being laughed at. But because Russert & Co. constitute the "permanent government," no one's willing to say the emperor has no clothes.