Arianna/Russert throwdown suddenly ramps up as NBC gets in the ring

arianna huffington.jpgRussert ariannna.jpgArianna Huffington has been on the Russert takedown beat for months and months, taking her beef with the “Meet The Press” host to her blog every week as she criticizes him for his treatment of his PlameGate role, Katrina coverage, and general Republi-pandering. Her reviews have become a Sunday/Monday constant, and in nine months, they haven’t really provoked any response.

Until now.

Huffington’s latest column on “Meet The Press” lambasted Russert for hosting James Carville to promote, inter alia, his new XM radio show that he co-hosts with – wait for it – Russert’s son, Luke. Aside from a few in-references, that relationship was not disclosed. Arianna also pooh-poohed Russert’s qualifications to speak on ethics.

For some reason, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and NBC got in on the action. According to Lloyd Grove, NBC responded by attacking Huffington’s credibility, dredging up rumors of Huffington hiring a private investigator to spy on Russert’s wife Maureen Orth in response to a hit piece she wrote on Huffington for Vanity Fair in 1994. Huffington has denied the charge.

A few things: this is weird for a few reasons. Why now? And why take the character assassination route with an unproven, untimely charge? It would seem that the best defense would beto attack the allegations Huffington levies, rather than imply that she is motivated by a decade-old grudge (since that piece she’s gone from a Republican to a Democrat. You don’t think she’s let a grudge or two go?). It’s a strange tactic on the part of NBC, and calls attention to something that might otherwise have stayed under the mainstream radar.

NBC News PR Department Gets Down and Dirty [HuffPo]
Big fuss over claims about Little Russ [NYDN]

Disclaimer: We have never met Tim Russert, but we have met Arianna Huffington and been welcomed into her lovely home. Feel free to take the above with a grain of salt accordingly, but in fairness that’s more disclaimer than Russert or Carville gave on “Meet The Press” on Sunday.