Remembering Tim Russert

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Lawrence Spivak, who founded 'Meet the Press,' told me before he died that the job of the host is to learn as much as you can about your guest's positions and take the other side. And to do that in a persistent and civil way. And that's what I try to do every Sunday. -- Tim Russert, in a 2007 interview with Time.

Tim Russert, NBC newsman and host of Meet the Press since 1991, died suddenly today of a heart attack, age 58. His willingness to ask tough questions (politely) of anyone on any side of an issue will be missed.

Dawn Summers writes:

I loved him when I was younger because he was an openly devout Catholic in the public eye, which was rare for anyone but Kennedys, and all the rarer for a broadcast journalist. During the "Election 2000″ I never missed Meet the Press, not ever....

I've grumbled at him in recent months for what I thought was unfair Clinton bashing, but I cannot imagine the next four months of "Election 2008″ without him. Heaven help those who are left with George Stephanopoulos to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Commenter Rawlins at Crunchy Con:

Tim Russert always managed to make journalism seem fair, literate but not elite, manly (if you're a man and he was and I am), important, even elegant. How I cannot imagine. It's just that when you contrast him with the others on Sunday morning news network TV, you got George Stephanopoulos who always seems slick but a pinch oily...and Chris Wallace who feels oily and a pinch slick. Then there are the other network guys....... Couric, Gibson. Williams being the best but there too, no Tim Russert.

I loved Tim Russert's apparent love for his Dad. His book regarding is required reading for men who need to learn what it is to be a role model. Even as a non-Dad. To bear the thought of facing this fall's election without Tim Russert is like having potted ham at Thanksgiving. I don't mean to lionize the guy, but this one really was an example of all-America at its best....

MORE: In the Wall Street Journal, Bernard Goldberg writes that Russert's perspective on media bias set him apart from most of his colleagues:

Tim was a big proponent of diversity, but he wanted to go further than the usual stuff. "I am for having women in the newsroom and minorities in the newsroom -- I'm all for it. It opens up our eyes and gives us different perspectives. But just as well, let's have people with military experience; let's have people from all walks of life, people from the top-echelon schools but also people from junior colleges and the so-called middling schools -- that's the pageantry of America . . . You need cultural diversity, you need ideological diversity. You need it."

Tim understood that without that kind of diversity, journalism would be in trouble. He knew it wasn't good for journalism or America if almost all the people reporting the news lived and worked in the same bubble.

"There's a potential cultural bias. And I think it's very real and very important to recognize and to deal with," he told me. "Because of backgrounds and training you come to issues with a preconceived notion or a preordained view on subjects like abortion, gun control, campaign finance. I think many journalists growing up in the '60s and the '70s have to be very careful about attitudes toward government, attitudes toward the military, attitudes toward authority. It doesn't mean there's a rightness or a wrongness. It means you have to constantly check yourself."

"Why the closed-mindedness when the subject comes around to media bias?" I asked him.

"That, to me, is totally contrary to who we're supposed to be as journalists. . . . If someone suggested there was an anti-black bias, an anti-gay bias, an anti-American bias, we'd sit up and say, 'Let's talk about this, let's tackle it.' Well, if there's a liberal bias or a cultural bias we have to sit up and tackle it and discuss it. We have got to be open to these things."

But there are times when an American journalist has to be biased:

We ended our conversation that day with an exchange about the criticism he took from some on the political left for wearing a red, white and blue ribbon on his lapel when he interviewed Vice President Dick Cheney on Sept. 16, 2001. He told me a good friend of his died at the World Trade Center on 9/11, and that the friend's family had asked if he would wear the ribbon, "and I never thought for a second about it."

"I want a debate about national security and who defines national security," he said. "I understand all that. But in the end, you have to make judgments, and on that day I made a judgment that five days after the most horrific event of my lifetime and of my journalistic career, that for me to say to the country I too am part of this, I too have experienced this gut-wrenching pain and agony, and I too have enormous remorse and sympathy, with not only the people who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in the field in Pennsylvania, but all of us -- we're in this together. This isn't covering Democrats and Republicans or the Bills versus the Redskins; this is us. The Taliban doesn't believe in the First Amendment."

"But what about those who say journalists shouldn't wear red, white and blue ribbons, that by doing that somehow you're taking the government's side in some debate or another," I asked him.

"It is imperative," he told me, "that we never suggest that there's a moral equivalency between the United States of America and the terrorists. Period. I'll believe that until the day I die."

ONE MORE: From the New Yorker:

With the help of his staff, Russert was especially good at arming himself for an interview by compiling a politician's previous statements in all their contradictions. Google was his tool and Gotcha his game. But it was Gotcha at its highest form. Russert's gift was to employ his bluff, nice-guy, good-son Irish Catholic upstate persona ("Go Bills!") to offset the avidity with which he would trip up his interlocutors. Arianna Huffington, who once called Russert a "conventional wisdom zombie," was among the many critics who pressed him to go much further, but Russert, more than anyone with a remotely equivalent job, did not back off easily, whether it was with Dick Cheney, in 2002, peddling nonsense about Iraq or with Al Gore, in 2000, trying to ease his way out of a line of questioning on abortion:

RUSSERT: When do you think life begins?

GORE: I favor the Roe vs. Wade approach, but let me just say, Tim, I did--

RUSSERT: Which is what? When does life begin?

GORE: Let me just say, I did change my position on the issue of federal funding and I changed it because I came to understand more from women--women think about this differently than men.

RUSSERT: But you were calling fetuses innocent human life, and now you don't believe life begins at conception. I'm just trying to find out, when do you believe life begins?

GORE: Well, look, the Roe vs. Wade decision proposes an answer to that question--

RUSSERT: Which is?

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2 Comments

WF said:

Frankly, I'm exhausted from this extended Russert-a-thon. His death got more news coverage than that of either Chief Justice Rehnquist or President Nixon. The amount of attention he received was more indicative of how important journalists think they are than any merits he may have had.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 13, 2008 9:42 PM.

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