The sudden and shocking death of NBC's Tim Russert brought an outpouring of kindness and generosity. The deluge of coverage suggested Russert had become a very central figure in the media-political complex. He was much better known than about 500 members of Congress, and had more political clout than about that many as well. Not enough people have wondered how the un-elected media have gained so much power and influence in the nation's capital. For our part, we hailed Russert's tough but fair questioning first in 1993, when he was asking tough questions about Bill Clinton's first big tax hike. From the August 1993 edition of MediaWatch:
NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert has added historical perspective to the budget debate by comparing the Clinton plan to the 1990 deal. On June 27, he grilled Budget Director Leon Panetta: "You raised taxes, the economy went further into recession, and there was no deficit reduction. Why is it going to be different in `92 when it didn't work in `90?" Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen received the same welcome on July 25. "1990. Congress got together with the President, raised taxes, cut defense, tried to limit Medicare growth, promised a $500 billion dollar deficit reduction....The deficit went up. Why isn't the same going to happen this year?"
The same day, he asked Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.): "What do you think of a plan that raises taxes a couple hundred billion dollars, limits growth on Medicare, cuts a little defense spending, reduces the interest on the public debt, and promises $500 billion in deficit reduction?" Domenici condemned Clinton's plan, and Russert sprung his trap: "The plan I actually talked about was the one you supported in 1990, vigorously...you raised taxes, and what happened is you promised $500 billion dollars in deficit reduction and instead the deficit went up $50 billion."
The deficit did decrease under Clinton -- especially due to the defeat of Hillarycare, followed by comparatively thriftier Republican control. But questions like this made Russert stand out -- and made Democrats a little uneasier about accepting an invitation to NBC on Sunday morning.