During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, NBC’s Tim Russert tried to test the Democratic candidates’ basic knowledge of foreign policy, asking what they knew about the man who will almost certainly be elected president of Russia in Sunday’s elections. After Hillary Clinton gave a general answer that kept referring to “Putin’s handpicked successor,” Russert pounced: “Do you know his name?”
But if the fact that Dmitry Medvedev will assume the Russian presidency is actually important, Russert and his co-moderator, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, have utterly ignored it as journalists. A Nexis search shows just one reference to Medvedev on NBC, an April 14, 2007 story about Russia’s giant energy company, Gazprom, of which Medvedev was chairman of the board. (The story aired on a weekend, when Lester Holt, not Brian Williams, was in the anchor chair.)
Reporter Jim Maceda talked about Medvedev for exactly 13 seconds, as file footage of Medvedev speaking at what appears to be a shareholders meeting. (See photo at top of post.)
MACEDA: They call it Kremlin Inc., capitalism with Putin himself as the ultimate CEO. In this system, the line between strategic resources, oil and gas, and political power is not only blurred, it doesn’t exist.
Take Dmitry Medvedev, Gazprom’s chairman of the board and deputy prime minister. Many believe he's a front-runner to succeed Putin. It’s as if Microsoft’s Bill Gates were US secretary of commerce as well.
But over the past nine months, as Medvedev campaigned for the presidency, NBC has completely ignored him. So has ABC and CBS. Hillary could easily have said, “I don’t know anything about him, including his name, because I get my news from you, Tim.”
Assuming he wasn’t engaged in a childish game of gotcha, the point of Russert’s debate question is that our presidential candidates need to have some basic knowledge about the leaders of crucial nations like Russia. If so, then shouldn’t NBC News spend at least a few minutes on the subject?
Russert may have thought he was exposing the candidates’ lack of knowledge, but he also exposed the superficiality of NBC News.