A State Department staffer tried to pull the plug on Tim Russert yesterday.
Toward the end of a "Meet the Press" interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Jordan, the camera suddenly moved off Powell to a shot of trees in front of the water.
"You're off," State Department press aide Emily Miller was heard saying.
"I am not off," Powell insisted.
"No, they can't use it, they're editing it," Miller said.
"He's still asking the questions," Powell said.
Miller, a onetime NBC staffer who recently worked for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, also told Powell: "He was going to go for another five minutes."
Undeterred, Russert complained from Washington: "I would hope they would put you back on camera. I don't know who did that." He later said, "I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don't think that's appropriate."
As the delay dragged on, Powell ordered: "Emily, get out of the way. Bring the camera back please." Powell's image returned to the screen, and Russert asked his last question.
What happened was that both NBC and Fox News were using Jordanian television facilities for back-to-back Powell interviews. Russert was allotted 10 minutes and was asked to wrap when he went over by about two minutes. He said "Finally, Mr. Secretary," but abruptly lost his guest.
Russert was still puzzled afterward. "A taxpayer-paid employee interrupted an interview," he said. "Not in the United States of America, that's not supposed to go on. This is attempted news management gone berserk. Secretary Powell was really stand-up. He was a general and took charge." Powell later called the NBC anchor from his plane to apologize for the glitch.
State Department spokeswoman Julie Reside disputed Russert's characterization, saying that NBC "went considerably beyond the agreed end time. Other networks were waiting for their interviews and had satellite time booked, and we didn't want to keep them waiting."
Asked why he simply didn't edit out the awkward interlude from the taped interview, Russert said: "It's part of the story."
-- Howard Kurtz