Friday, June 13, 2008

On Russert's Passing

Despite his being a Democrat, I have always found NBC's Tim Russert a fair man.  To draw a contrast, I need only to point to NBC's overt blunderbuss, Keith Olbermann, or that fourteen karat buffoon that NBC is actually considering to take Russert's place, David Gregory - which would be a terrible dishonor to the memory of the man; but Russert was also a reasonable news man, a family man, a man of faith (a church attending Roman Catholic), a Northeasterner who had passions for his beloved home teams, and his young son Luke who just graduated from Boston College.

With one of my own just having graduated from the BC of the South (Wake Forest) and the fresh emotions that come with that; having a son of my own named Luke, and considering Russert's rather humble origins (his Dad was a garbage collector from Buffalo, NY) one has to admire the man, and mourn the terrible loss of his premature passing, and very likely the end of an era in TV news and political discussion and debate.

Russert was known for his rather unique and effective way of interviewing his political guests on Meet the Press.  For the past 17 years as the moderator of MTP, he maintained a television news tradition, lending a sense of history and veracity to the weekly news staple for NBC.

Below is a tribute to Russert by William Kristol, Editor of the Weekly Standard, with whom Russert shared a portion of his interesting life.

From William Kristol:

Tim Russert, 1950-2008

I knew Tim Russert for over three decades. I liked and admired him very much.

I first met Tim when Pat Moynihan was running for the Senate in 1976, in New York's Democratic primary. I was 23 years old, working for the campaign as deputy issues director. (This sounds more important than it was. Pat didn’t need much help on issues, and there were only two of us in the issues shop.) Tim, as I recall, was working in some capacity, formal or informal, for the Democratic boss in Buffalo, Joe Crangle, on the upstate campaign, and he came to the headquarters in Manhattan to coordinate with us. We hit it off in a casual way--and then, after Pat won the primary in September (by a little less than 10,000 votes out of close to a million cast), I went back to Cambridge to get my Ph.D., while Tim came to Washington with Pat after he won in November as a top aide.

He served Pat very well--while developing a fantastic imitation of Pat’s distinctive manner of speaking. Then he moved over to work for Mario Cuomo when he became governor of New York, served him equally well--and then went to NBC, where he of course became a star in his own right.

The last occasion I spent much time with Tim was after he gave the commencement address at the 2007 Washington University graduation in St. Louis; one of our daughters was in the graduating class. I called to congratulate him on the speech--it was a good one, especially given the difficulties and limitations of the genre--and we had lunch. I remember thinking afterwards that he was remarkably unchanged from the young man I'd met thirty years before. He was still intellectually curious and personally kind, a patriot and a family man, with a lively personality and a great and communicable interest in politics and life.

He was an impressive and admirable man, and while Washington can be an insincere town, the almost universal expressions of grief at his passing are genuine and, if I can put it this way, completely deserved.

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