The rise of social media has fundamentally changed politics.
And that shift has created a system that “rewards loud voices not always backed up by facts,” said Luke Russert, a former NBC News correspondent.
“We live in a hyper-connected world,” he said. “It has pushed the media to gin up content to feed the beast. Something in that past that wouldn’t have been front-page news … is front and center. That has enabled actors to come on to the scene … and present themselves as neutral arbiters, when they’re not.”
Russert, the son of the late “Meet the Press” anchor Tim Russert, was the keynote speaker at the 2016 Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists annual conference. The 31-year-old spent more than hour talking about the state of the media and politics, offering insight into how the system has changed in recent years.
Russert joined NBC News in 2008 and focused on youth issues for NBC News during the 2008 presidential election. He began covering Congress in 2009, where he stayed until he left NBC News earlier this year.
Covering Capitol Hill meant he saw the rise of the tea party, and the influence those views had on governing. Compromise became a dirty word, and establishment lawmakers began to fear primary challenges.
One example of the impact was the debate over the debt limit. Russert said viewpoints once central to the Republican Party “evaporated in thin air,” and it was the first of many fights that would lead Speaker John Boehner to step down.
Russert said he thinks the best way for compromise to re-emerge in politics is a federal ban on gerrymandering.
“If you really, truly wanted to create a system where compromise was more front-and-center, where it was more possible, you need to have a federal amendment against gerrymandering,” he said.
He also used his appearance to talk about the presidential race, again pointing to social media and new media platforms when talking about Donald Trump’s rise. The Republican nominee’s antics drive viewers and readers to websites and cable news, boosting clicks and ad revenue for media companies.
“It’s a fundamental altering of how America does business,” he said.
Russert announced in July he was leaving NBC News, saying he wanted to take some time away from political reporting and focus on other projects. One thing he won’t be doing? Running for office.
When asked by an audience member whether he would consider a run, Russert quickly responded: “No, no. I’m good.”
He also hedged questions about whether he hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps and host “Meet the Press.” He said the show has changed “so much” since his father hosted it, and he’s interested in seeing what the future will bring for it.
Russert hinted at a return to journalism, thanking lobbyists for “all your scoops” they’ll be giving him in the future.
“I’m one of the few people in the country that will actually say this: I love lobbyists,” he said with a laugh. “The reason why is you guys leak like a sieve. If you need any information about anything, you call a lobbyist. Need a great blind quote that slams somebody? You call a lobbyist. You need someone give you the family jewels? You always call a lobbyist.
“If you put truth serum in … [a] political journalist they will tell you, without lobbyists we could not do our job,” he said. “Thank you for all the scoops you’ll be giving me when I get back in the saddle in a few more months.”