Today the world of journalism lost a truly great and gifted man…Tim Russert.
Tim was the NBC News Washington Bureau Chief (the leader of NBC News, CNBC & MSNBC), as well as the longest running host of the iconic Sunday news show: Meet the Press. He was what people call a “Manager / Player”, not only was he the boss of the likes of Tom Brokaw, Chris Matthews, Brian Williams, Keith Olbermann, Joe Scarborough and so many other journalists…he also put himself out on the playing field as the host of a show that I had grown to love, admire and have never missed an episode of in years and point to when I provide an example of exceptional journalism and reporting. My Sunday mornings were built around Meet the Press and ‘spending time’ with Tim.
Earning my respect is not an easy task (almost to a fault) not only in my personal and professional life, but especially when it comes to journalism and politics. The moment I stop respecting you or if you have not earned it, anything you have to say is inconsequential to me and carries little to no weight. For a political cynic / junkie such as myself, Tim Russert was at the TOP of my short list of people in the news that I respected and admired. If it came out of his mouth, I believed it and knew it was deeply considered before he spoke. People would ask who I would like to sit and talk politics with…the answer was always Tim Russert. He is the example that I turn to as the only journalist who always asks the questions that I want asked and want answers to. He was fearless, respected throughout the industry and his opinion carried massive weight with other journalists and politicians alike.
On a personal note, it is well known that family always came first with Tim. Many have commented that it wouldn’t matter how important a meeting he was in or how busy he was, if his son or wife ever called, he stopped everything to take the call. He would make his staff go home if they worked too late, telling them to go home and spend time with their families. If a fellow journalist had a baby, the first congratulatory call came from Tim. He wrote a book for his father that made son’s reconsider and appreciate their relationship with their own fathers. He came from Buffalo, where much of my family on my father’s side were from and all of my sisters were born. He is the father of my own political aspirations and passion…he set the bar very high.
For anyone who saw Tim on a multitude of news programs, you were always struck by his wonderful personality, good nature, enthusiasm and authenticity. His integrity was irreproachable. His political mind was exceptional. His uncanny / encyclopedic memory and ability to shape an interview was legendary, sometimes feared. Being on Meet the Press with Tim was considered to be the most difficult interview a public figure could face; if you were not prepared, Tim would devour you and your interview on his show could even affect weeks of news coverage. Many campaigns and political careers have come to an end based upon a lack of preparation for a Meet the Press interview with Tim. I think of David Duke, former head of the Louisiana-based KKK, running for Governor of that state in 1991. Duke professed to be running on the Louisiana economy and not race. Tim asked a simple question: “If you are running on the economy of your state, who are the top 3 employers in your state?”. Duke had no response, as he obviously had no knowledge of his state’s economy: Campaign over. Many remember, early in the primary season, the ‘inevitability’ of Hillary Clinton as the presumptive Democratic nominee for President. However, it was Tim’s question during an early debate about Elliot Spitzer and his support of driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in the state of New York, of which Hillary supported and denounced within the span of 3 minutes, that put a chink in her armor and with it, the ‘inevitability’ factor…deemed by many the turning point in the election and thus opening the door for Obama. Tim asked a question that no one thought of and was evident had not been a part of the Clinton debate prep…the first and therefore most significant stumble of her early campaign.
In a political environment of bickering and talk show hosts who yell more than say anything of value; Tim made you accountable to yourself, against your own words, your own actions and never by raising his tone, only raising the standard of the questioning and their depth.
I know that the death of a journalist means very little for those who scarcely follow the news or political events. These days, good and decent journalists with integrity are hard to come by…long gone are the days of Murrow and Cronkite who could shape public opinion by the mere words that they spoke and the weight that they carried. I fear that we have lost the best vessel for holding people’s feet to the fire in the pursuit of truth. For someone like me, who has dedicated hours of free time a week for nearly 4 years recording a show on politics, the election, news, history, science and other topics…there is a great premium put on finding exceptional journalism. If I learned of an upcoming high profile interview on MTP, I always knew that Tim would be the best person to not let someone off the ropes, hold them accountable to things they’ve said and done and ask every question I could hope for…and many more I never would have thought of. If you were interested in politics, MTP was a must watch / must see / never miss program for those who wanted accuracy, intelligence, depth, nuance, context, integrity and journalistic excellence.
To watch the coverage on MSNBC, of those who worked with and for him, as well as the outpouring of public figures who have spoken of Tim, you might have a better understanding of the loss of a person so respected, so admired in his field, it would be hard to not feel his influence on journalism…the standard by which others measure themselves.
“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” – Hamlet
Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.
Tim did neither alone.