Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
About a dozen of us were halfway through a day-long newspaper conference, near the Cities, when I heard the news. Tim Russert had collapsed and died in the NBC newsroom in Washington, D.C. Suddenly, unexpectedly, and far too early. A quiet shock filled the room. Eventually we shared what this meant to us, and to our profession. Such is the state of the media today that the world knew within minutes that he had died. I couldn't help but think that he died in the midst of doing what he loved so: preparing for his Sunday morning program Meet the Press. With his boots on, so to speak. But he also died in the middle of the most exciting (for journalists anyway) presidential race in perhaps 50 years. Of course, I thought next, he'll be watching the 2008 presidential election from the best vantage point there is: heaven. Oh, imagine the interviews he's doing there, getting all sorts of background information from sources no living journalist can! I watched this week's Meet the Press. (It's one of the few TV shows I really try to watch when I can.) Tom Brokaw, another of my heroes, acted as host to several long-time friends and colleagues of Russert. They spoke of his character and work. Unlike many journalists and news people, who appeal to certain groups of people but not all, Tim Russert enjoyed the respect and admiration of everyone. Russert came from a working-class family in Buffalo. He went to Catholic schools. He studied law. He later worked among the movers and shakers of our modern world. He easily could have abandoned his upbringing and sought the "high life". Instead he embraced his background and, I believe, used it to his and our benefit. He had a devoted audience that included the public personalities who were guests on his show. Even the politicians who faced Russert's unrelenting and unwavering questions loved him. As we go to press, Russert's funeral services have not yet been held. There have been several television tributes (particularly on NBC and MSNBC) filled with amusing insights into Tim Russert's character and work style. There are common themes in what people have said in these few days since his untimely death: he put his family first, had a passion and boyish enthusiasm in all he did, had a "missionary's zeal" for lifting up everyone around him, thoroughly understood politics and power, and felt that journalism is the highest calling. Tim Russert is the ideal journalist for those of us in the business. He was always thoroughly prepared, and thus could be unrelenting with his questions. Many politicians have been hung by their own words because Russert was more prepared than they were.
But the public as a whole has lost a beacon of truth. Russert sought the truth with an open mind, and shined a light in dark corners for us all to see. His integrity was irrefutable, and his passion irreplacable. Every once in awhile, I've found that a good cry can be very helpful. It cleans and refreshes the eyes, helps drain the sinuses, and bathes the soul. I anticipate having a good cry about 9 a.m. every Sunday for awhile.