Remembering Tim Russert

Timrussertobit_l_2Tim Russert’s shockingly early death at age 58 is one of those passings that makes you stop and take stock of the man, the work he did, and the world he inhabited. Since 1991, Russert had hosted Meet the Press, NBC’s venerable news-maker chat show that began broadcasting in 1947. Meet the Press hosts have included the grave Marvin Kalb and the lightweight Chris Wallace, but no one brought his personality to the program the way Russert did.

A Jesuit-educated Irish-Catholic Democrat who worked for New York governor Mario Cuomo and New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan before forsaking politics for TV reporting, Russert dove into election analysis with a boyish relish. It was always clear that Russert loved the back-room clubbiness of politics, loved figuring out all the angles in any given political race, and had a finely trained mind for history, facts, and figures.
Once he assumed hosting duties of Meet the Press, Russert entered the inner circle of Washington media power, for better and for worse. He was able to attract the most powerful figures to his Sunday roundtable discussions, and radiated a ruddy pugnaciousness in his questioning. As the years went by and Russert settled into his role as a power player, his attitude remained adversarial, but he often pulled his punches, rarely taking on a high-profile Democrat or Republican in the most forcefully journalistic way. One assumes this was because part of the price for being at the center of Washington media is that one has to make sure the big names keep coming back week after week; throw too many verbal punches and Mr. or Ms. Power-Broker is likely to find a less heated venue. Russert’s achievement was to give the appearance of asking the tough questions while making his guests feel that nothing truly blunt or upsetting was going to be asked.

In the days ahead, much will be said about Russert’s legacy, and his ongoing influence on his profession. In fact, Russert was more like the end of the line, the last of a generation of gentleman journalists. Over on ABC, Sunday morning news analysis is presided over by George Stephanopoulos, who after almost six years of hosting This Week retains a mixture of callowness and cynicism that’s alternately tedious and irritating. That Stephanopoulos has managed to challenge Russert in the ratings must have startled Russert, who to the end maintained a serious, fact-heavy line of questioning.

Russert has died at a time when his own network’s news coverage is now starting to be dominated by the welcome aggressiveness of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who is less inclined to let the powerful get away with a wink and a nod. But Russert’s winks had a beguling twinkle; his nods were the sage agreements of a political journalist who enjoyed the give-and-take of a good, civilized argument. In that sense, he represents the end of an era.

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  • Al Fredo

    On one hand, I am shocked and saddened by this news. On the other hand, I feel like Ken Tucker has mistakenly reported Larry Kings death. “Often pulling punches”? The best thing you can say about Tim Russert is that he always seemed to strike that perfect balance: being forthright and direct in his interviews (as opposed to most softball interviews like King) and showing a gracious, even-keeled demeanor (as opposed to the dime-a-dozen blowhards out there). What a loss.

  • orville

    I actually gasped in shock when I heard about this. How horrible. He was one of the few reasonable, intelligent, and forthright, while still being hard-hitting, commentators out there. He was never rude or insulting. Something we need more of in the media in this election year. My thoughts are with his family.

  • 1000Steps

    In a world full of O’Reily’s and Olbermann’s – It sucks to lose one of the good guys

  • Sadie

    I gasped as well when I heard this. He was one of the rare political journalists who I respected — he didn’t show any bias to a particular party, he asked the hard questions folks wanted to hear the answers to, and he had a clear passion for politics. Most importantly, he seemed like a nice guy. I remember seeing an interview with him and his father when he released his Big Russ & Me book, and the way he, at the age of 54, still spoke to his father with utmost respect grabbed my attention. My sympathies to his family. A great loss for journalism.

  • Linda K Woodward

    What a shock! I even shed a few tears. He will be missed in our household and many others I am sure. My thought and prayers go out to his family.

  • John Walls

    Tim’s keen insight and thoughful perspectives will be sorely missed, even by a long standing conservative like myself who often did not see eye to eye with this great man’s ideals.

  • Mario

    Sunday morning Political television won’t be the same without his keen wit and insightfull analysis. I am deeply saddened by his death.

  • Bob Widner

    Tim Russert’s death at 58 should be a call to us to think ahead. Fifty-eight is a kid, to me at 76, but might be considered an old man by some. Keep breathing, and you will live to 58 or 100.

  • Thomas Pak

    My Condolences!
    I remember the way he said “We now have a Democratic presidential nominee…” with twinkling eyes and incredible fulfilling look on his face a month ago…
    May he find peace in God’s arms.

  • ivan villalta

    I will remember Tim as the gentlemen of the jounalist. His questions always backed up with facts. He cornered the polititians regardless party affiliation,and he knew when to stop asking the same question. Good political analyst as a predictor winner in a presidential election.I will miss his talent as a journalist and a political reality show. He will be difficult to replace. Our prayers and condolence to his family.
    Ivan Villalta

  • Harold Piggott

    Mr. Russert was always fair when he interviewed people, he didn’t play favorites, whether they were Democrat or Republican. He was one of the best.

  • Jerry Manogue

    It really hurt to hear about Tim’s passing. After all these years ,I felt I knew and respected him as a person who believe’s in what he say’s. He will be missed for his working class roots and the way he handled the ( powerfull ) JM

  • nunya

    It’s so sad to think that this election will continue w/o the great Tim Russert. It just doesn’t make any sense that he’s gone. He was such a good person, so fair, and so evenhanded. I’m really gonna miss him. I’m 20 years old and I’m unsure about the career path that I will embark on, but one thing is for sure: I want to have as much passion and joy for whatever it is i do that Tim Russert had as the brilliant journalist/ political analyst that he was. Man, it doesn’t even make sense to use the past tense regarding Tim Russert. RIP.

  • james hundley

    Tim Russert was one of my favorite guys. They say he died of a heart attack/arrhythmia. Can NBC not afford to have a $1,500 AED [Automatic Defibrillator] on every floor of their building?!!!!!] Its an absolute shame! Tim Russert may very well be alive right now if office staff had defibrillated him on-the-spot!
    My prayers are with his family.
    [If you are wealthy, be sensible and hire personnel to care for your health. Health is your only and true wealth. Nothing physical matters as much.]
    No, really, would Tim had spent $1500 to put an AED on his office floor? Yes he would have…he probably was just not informed.

  • Rebekah

    If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. My Sundays will be a bit sadder. Tim was an institution. He will be truly missed.

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