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Friday, June 13, 2008

In Memoriam: Tim Russert

As most have heard, Meet the Press Moderator, Tim Russert died of a heart attack today. He was 58 years old. Russert was a true giant in journalism - and will be sorely missed. Gerald Seib was interviewed by Russert a few hours before Russert died.

Tim had set standards. He had shown how to hold politicians accountable for their own words and promises in a way that was both tough and fair. He reminded all of us on both sides of the journalism-politician divide, that the point of it all wasn’t to impress each other but to serve the viewer, the reader, the voter – the citizen. More than any journalist I know, in print or on air, Tim harkened back constantly to that central truth: politicians and those who cover them are responsible not to each other, but to the common audience of voters to whom they all spoke.

And somehow he did all that while making everybody – those who actually knew him and those who knew him only as a T.V. figure – see him as a good guy. Which he was.

As it happens, his son, Luke, and my oldest son are similar in age, have a similar love for baseball, and have the same Catholic background. So when it was time to pick a high school for our son, my wife and I called him who graciously and thoughtfully walked us through how he and his wife had made that same decision. It was obvious that Luke occupied a bigger part of his life than anything having to do with T.V., politics or Washington.

And indeed this son of Buffalo was a regular guy til the end. Friday morning, as we prepared for what turned out to be his final interview, the NBC makeup crew was concerned that he hadn’t had time to get a haircut, meaning his hair was curling about his ears as we prepared to open his show. I smiled inside. Of all the things Tim might be worried about, that was never likely to be one of them.

About a month ago, Russert talked about his hopes that this presidential campaign would be about the broader questions about the direction this country should go, rather than the trivialities that tend to drive campaigns.