My favorite TV news man died today. Tim Russert was the NBC Washington bureau chief, and for the past 17 years, moderator of Meet The Press. Russert was at the NBC studios in Washington this morning when he collapsed from a heart attack, what his doctor called a “sudden coronary thrombosis”. He died immediately.
When it came to news and politics in Washington, Russert was me. He was an every day Joe American. He asked the questions and got the information that I wanted to know. His interviews on Meet The Press were entertaining and extremely informative, not only because of the guests he hosted and the topics they discussed, but because of the way he did it.
When I first started watching him many years ago, Russert’s interviews actually frustrated me. See, he quickly became for me the guy that would ask the extra question, the question that I was thinking about. A politician would be talking, and in my mind I’d be thinking, “yeah, but that’s not what you said 6 months ago when you were in this city…” and then Russert would chime in saying, “but that’s not what you said 6 months ago…”. But Russert didn’t stop there. He showed the quote right there on the TV screen for all of America to see, and more importantly to make sure the guest knew that we knew. But when the guest would still not give a straight answer, Russert would move on to the next question. And that upset me. He would go further than any other news guy, which is why I loved him, but he just wouldn’t quite finish the job.
And then I learned. Then I got to know Tim. I learned more about his past, his roots in Buffalo, his Catholic upbringing, his work for Senator Moynahan on Capitol Hill, his passion for the Buffalo Bills. I identified with him due in no small part to the fact that I’ve always felt a kinship with Buffalo Bills fans. They are quite similar to Green Bay Packers fans: blue collar town, cold weather football, loyal fans through and through, down-to-earth simple people. And as I got to know more about who Tim Russert really was, I finally understood. I realized what he was doing. Tim Russert respected his guests. And even though he knew he had them in one of those “gotcha” moments, he never actually said, “gotcha”. Instead, he left that up to me to say for myself. It was almost as if in that moment, he could have looked at the camera right into my eyes, and with that look that we shared, we would both know what each other was thinking.
Rather than challenging a guest’s position on an issue, he would ask his questions in such a way that when the guest would answer, we the viewers would knew exactly where the guest stood. And that’s how Tim saw his job. That was his responsibility. It was not to catch a politician in a lie; not to embarrass a foreign head of state. But to make sure that when the Tim Russert interview was over, there was no question in anyone’s mind how the guest felt about the subject. Tim Russert respected me and my intelligence enough to allow me to watch and make that determination for myself.
Russert also had a great sense of humor. I loved watching him with his white board during the 2000 presidential election. And many folks may not know that in addition to hosting Meet The Press, he also hosted The Tim Russert Show, where he would interview many guests outside of the political arena, promoting books, discussing their lives. He brought his same thoroughness to those interviews, and after an hour with a guest, I knew everything I wanted to know.
One of the other endearing qualities in Russert was that when it came to sports and allegiance, everyone knew where he stood. He was a big Buffalo Bills fan, and he made sure everyone knew it. There are so many TV news personalities who are afraid to show their sports team allegiances for fear of offending fans of the other team. Well, this blogger, a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, has enormous respect for Tim Russert, a Bills fan. He loved his Bills like I love my Packers.
Tim Russert was one of very few people who could cause me to immediately put the remote down when I was flipping through channels. If the show was Tim Russert, it was genuine, it was real. It was exactly what I wanted to see, and I watched. Russert was a great American, a true patriot, and I’m going to miss him.
As made clear in Tim’s book “Big Russ & Me“, he had a great respect for his father. He cherished his relationship with his son Luke. He was a devoted husband. And I can’t think of a better time for us to remember Tim Russert, than Fathers Day weekend.
If it’s Sunday morning, it’s Meet The Press Tim Russert.