Russert Tries to Bait Murtha into Swiping at Cheney

It's a bit early for a Passover Seder, but Tim Russert recited his own version of the Four Questions on this morning's Meet the Press. Not once, not twice, but four times Russert put questions to Jack Murtha clearly designed to provoke the anti-war congressman into taking a verbal swing at Vice-President Cheney. Murtha refused to rise to his host's bait. Russert began by displaying Mr. Cheney's recent statement [displayed below]. Palpably fishing for an irate,  headline-grabbing response, he put this provoking question to Murtha:

"How does it feel to be linked with Al-Qaeda by the Vice-President?"

View video clip of Russert's questions here.

Murtha answered with a chuckle and the fairly mild complaint that the VP isn't listening to what he's saying. Not obtaining the outraged reaction he was seeking, Tim tried again, this time upping the ante by raising Murtha's military background:

"But you're a Marine. Do you like being linked with Al-Qaeda?"

Again, Murtha wouldn't bite, offering the bland notion that the Iraqis themselves would take care of Al-Qaeda. Russert wouldn't be stopped:

"You think the Vice-President's questioning your patriotism?"

Murtha was clearly committed to taking the high road: "No I don't think so." At that point I figured Russert would give it a rest. But, remarkably, he made once last try to wring a quotable comment out of his guest:

"Did he apologize to you?"

Murtha dismissed the notion with a good-natured chuckle, observing that at least VP Cheney didn't blame him for bringing about the British withdrawal.

A disgraceful performance on Russert's part. Yes, it's a host's job to elicit his guest's opinions. But here, with his repeated, provocative questions, Russert was clearly seeking heat -- and headlines -- rather than light. What does it say about the objectivity of Russert, MTP and NBC that Tim took a harder line with VP Cheney than Jack Murtha himself?

Mark was in Iraq in November. Contact him at

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