As the moderator’s chair was left empty this morning, colleagues and friends of Tim Russert gathered in front of his desk, remembering a great contributor to journalism and the media. Tim Brokaw hosted the remeberence on the set of Meet The Press, while James Carvell, Mary Matalin, Mike Barnicle, Betsy Fischer, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Gwen Ifill shared similar stories and tears about Russert’s career and life. Maria Shriver was there via satellite.
Everyone agreed (even Matalin who wept every now and then and at a few points, held hands with her husband) that Russert was not only hard, but fair. Stories about his love for Buffalo, sports, family, music, work, and his Irish Catholic background were accompanied with video and photo images. Flags are even being flown at half-mast in Buffalo today.
As I look around the Web this am and see the various blogs and opinion pieces that are being posted, I have read many that are surprisingly crude and disrespectful. Some have said that there has been too much coverage about Russert’s death and that enough was enough. Others see him as being nothing but a “muppet to the media.” I think what these bloggers and web journalist are forgetting is the fact that with Russert’s discussions and coverage on Sunday mornings, he set the agenda for the remaining week for political banter, including banter from us. Best example? The ton of posts that have been written about him since Friday.
Russert set the example of a good journalist. He had said that it was the responsibility of the journalist to study and know his guests, then take the opposite side to get to the heart of what the public needs to know. James Carville said that one of the things Russert hated most was when his guests showed up unprepared. To Russert, this was not only an insult but a reflection of how that guest’s lack of preparation inferred that they did not take his show seriously.
Russert has said that Sunday mornings were like a “town hall” where people could gather around their television sets and hear the answers to questions that politicians reluctantly answered. Maria Shriver said that she saw firsthand the fear that guests would exhibit, citing examples of her conservative husband and liberal uncle as they too prepared to appear on Russert’s show. They understood the importance of being on Meet The Press.
So as you go about your daily Sunday activities, hopefully getting ready to celebrate Father’s Day, remember that Russert was a father too – not only to his own son, Luke, but also to all of those he mentored in the studio, in the relationships he made, and to all of us in front of the television screen.
As to my point above about Russert leading the political discussion for the week, we can see that even in death, he has accomplished this. Thank you Tim Russert.