Will “Alpha Dog” Role Ever Be Re-Filled?

By SteveK 

New York Magazine’s Kurt Andersen speculates if the death of Tim Russert signaled an end to the era of having, “political media’s alpha dog.”

“As a result of more and more journalists’ making names for themselves by morphing into commentators, the pool of candidates to become the clued-in voice of authority, equally trusted by people on the left and right, is shrinking,” Andersen writes. “By growing so loud and large and opinionated, the commentariat may be rendering itself incapable of having a king.”

Dubbing him “probably irreplaceable,” Andersen describes the appeal of Russert. “He could call a spade a spade, mostly stuck to facts, and almost never adopted that pose of phony broadcaster gravitas that we see parodied on Comedy Central every night,” he writes.


And what does Andersen say is “like watching Henry V and As You Like It performed on the same stage at the same time”?

“MSNBC election nights are like watching Henry V and As You Like It performed on the same stage at the same time,” writes Andersen. “Surrounded by the new-style gang of smirking, eye-rolling, jabbering commentator-newsmen — that is, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews — he came across as the responsible adult whose words had real authority.”

Andersen also compares and contrasts FNC and MSNBC, and notes a key difference:

Fox was born in pursuit of a particular ideological agenda. MSNBC is simply trying to make people watch, and happened to get there by letting Matthews be Matthews and Olbermann be Olbermann, and occasionally bringing in the old-school network eminences. It’s easier to imagine The O’Reilly Factor on MSNBC than Countdown on Fox. When liberals and conservatives argue with each other on MSNBC, it tends to be more like a friendly debate at a dinner party, as opposed to Fox’s WWF version of left-right discourse. If CNN in the eighties was cable-news political coverage 1.0, and Fox was 2.0, then something like version 3.0 is fitfully emerging on MSNBC.