Viewers of the Maryland Senate debate between Michael Steele and Ben Cardin on Sunday's "Meet the Press" might not have been surprised that the soundbite that "Today" plucked out the next day was the one showing the Republican being pressed about being a Bush-lover. But wait: did Tim Russert balance out that line of questioning with asking Cardin about his fervent support for Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton or Ted Kennedy or even Barbara Mikulski? Why, no. Two weeks ago in a Minnesota Senate debate, Russert caused Republican Mark Kennedy to distance himself from Bush, then pressed Democrat Amy Klobuchar to distance herself from Hillary Clinton. That balance didn't occur yesterday. Here's the snippet of Russert that Meredith Vieira offered Monday:
Tim Russert: "Are you running as a proud, Bush Republican?"
Michael Steele: "I am a proud Republican. I'm a proud-"
Russert: "Why not proud Bush Republican?"
Steele: "I'm a proud, I'm a proud Republican. I mean, because my orientation is the Republican Party, it's not just one individual in the party."
Vieira: "So how can Bush rally voters when he is being shunned by members of his own party?"
But that wasn't the only way Russert and NBC went soft on Cardin. Russert also did not press Cardin on racial insensitivity in the campaign, from Steny Hoyer's suggestion that Steele had a "slavish" devotion to the GOP (and called Steele a "token") to the blogging staffer fired for racial and ethnic insensitivity. (That's hardly the way Russert treated George Allen on Meet the Press on "macaca.")
Russert did press Cardin on allowing abortions without parental consent, and on the Iraq war. But here's why you can't get a soundbite out of that meandering, slippery Iraq discussion. You couldn't get Cardin to have an identifiable position. He obfuscated so long, in such unquotable ways, that it was bad television.
But it also has the potential to be terrible government "oversight."