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Tim Russert — 1950 — 2008

June 13th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Politics


Tim Russert just died.

My initial post:

I’m in shock. I just got home and will have MSNBC on all night. I was at the hospital and my cell went off 5 times and i couldn’t answer it but i knew something happened.

To explain it to non politicos, I’ve said it’s like Johnny Carson dying well before he ever retired. Or it’s on the level of John Lennon. The best of the best. Or to us hockey people, it would be like Scotty Bowman when he was still coaching, or Messier right after ‘94.

He was so far and away the best — it was him, then everyone else. Barbara Walters just said, “This is a huge loss to America.” And she’s right.

He set the standards, and just about every journalist in the business was his student.

The Mayor of Buffalo has put all flags on government property at half-mast.

I remember him holding up the Washington Capitals jersey on MTP during their recent playoff run.

Passion . . . child-like enthusiasm with a genius’s intellect . . . the white board . . . “Florida Florida Florida” . . . And I think he’s the guy who came up with the “blue and red states” that we all now live with. The colors used to be different on the different networks, but it was he and NBC that really established the red for Repubs and blue for Dems.

I’ve got so many MTPs on tape, man — going back 10 or 20 years.

I got to meet him on election night 2004 and we shared a prankster’s wink and smile. “Can you pass the Russert test?”

November 4th this year should be dedicated to him.

As Bob Dylan ended his tribute to Jerry Garcia: “There’s no way to convey the loss. It just digs down really deep.”

RIP good brother.

= = = = = = =

Some facts, trivia, stories & comments about Tim from MSNBC’s outstanding non-stop coverage this aft / evening . . .

MSNBC did not run a single ad starting from when the news first broke (around 3:00) until 8:33PM!

Meet The Press (MTP) has been on the air for 61 years, since Nov 6 1947 – the longest running show on television.

The Smithsonian put his white board in their permanent collection!

His using that in the 2000 election was rated one of the top 100 moments in all of Television history.

When talking about politics, his face would light up was like a kid on Christmas.  And he listened to people’s answers.

He was the guy who called this Democratic primary.

It was the night of the North Carolina / Indiana on May 6th when he said, “We now know who the Democratic nominee is.”  It was when Russert said it — and that definitely — that it was like a judge rendering a verdict.  Other people may have said it, but it was when Tim said it that it meant everything to both campaigns, and every journalist in the world.

David Gregory – When the word got to the Hillary campaign headquarters that Russert had called the race over, the air went out of the room.  He had that gravitas.  And no one else had it.

That he didn’t want MTP to be an argumentative program.  He knew exactly what he wanted to do with that show, transformed the show, and transcended journalism.  If he said something, you could take it to the bank.

He was a key witness in the prosecution of Scooter Libby.

He had one son, Luke.  And his father Big Russ was still alive.

And Sunday is Father’s Day.   🙁    how sad.

Fuck.  I can’t believe he’s not here anymore.

Mike Barnacle – named his son Timothy — and Russert was at his Christening.

He was a player-coach to other journalist — one of the team players, but also the coach of the team.

He was always the smartest guy in the room.

They didn’t reach Chris Matthews in Paris until 7PM.  He talked about how everyone in the room would say “Russert is here.”  His presence meant more than anyone else’s.  But he was not a cocktail party guy.

How red-eyed and choked-up some journalists & others are — Al Hunt, Mike Barnacle, Keith Oberman, Chris Matthews, Campbell Brown, CEO Jack Welch barely making it through their tributes.

He was a devoted friend to all who knew him.

GE/NBC  CEO Jack Welch – “This has affected me like only a few days in my life.”

Mario Cuomo was a mentor to Tim.  “We’ve lost him when we need him most.”

He was so grateful for the life he was living.  He was very spiritual.  He felt blessed to have his elderly father.

Tim’s closeness to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.  What smarter person could he have been around?!

He was a lawyer.

He intimidated his colleagues cuz he was so smart.

Moynihan said to Russert about the Ivy League hotshots in the Senator’s office.  “What they know, you can learn.  What you know, they can never learn.”

He was the guy who popped the David Duke bubble – when he appeared on MTP, it’s Russert’s questions that ended his political rise.

That he could impersonate Sen. Moynihan’s voice so well, he would actually take calls on his behalf in Washington.

He brought Chuck Todd into NBC and expanded his role.

He was the guy (because of his credibility and clout) who changed MTP from a half-hour to an hour.

That the statements that he got on MTP are part of the historical record of Cheney and others in their statements about the lead up to the Iraq War, and so many other historical events.  He was creating a record for history.

He changed not only MTP, but every other serious news show on television.  He set the standard.  As Matthews said, “He was the gold standard.”

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post:  He understood politics so much better than everyone else.  His encyclopedic knowledge, and his work ethic made him so outstanding.  He’s such an institution and presence in Washington.

Crew members are working tonight with tears in their eyes.  They still have to work tonight and were so touched by him.

Leadership qualities.  Family base.

Ben Bradlee (Wash Post) — when the release of your guests on Saturday becomes a must-know in Washington, you know you’ve arrived.

Tim’s hour-long show in MSNBC on the weekend is also gone.   He just had Jim Webb on last weekend – and I’ve got the tape of it!  J

his doctor: Dr. Michael Newman — asymptomatic coronary artery disease – he did his best with exercise and life style.  April 29th stress test.  was on the treadmill this morning, as on most days.

They occur without warning.  no way to detect them.  there was rupture of cholesterol build up.  he had an enlarged heart.  they did the autopsy and found the break in the artery.

he was taping the opening for Meet The Press.

within a few moment they knew Tim was in trouble.

an intern who knew CPR began doing it.

they needed a defibulator.

He was known to have coronary artery disease.

Even in a witnessed cardiac arrest, survival is only about 5%.

His weight was an issue.

Oberman at 8:  “If he wasn’t the story, he’d be here guiding us tonight.”

He’d taped his weekend “Tim Russert” show in the morning!  There’s one last show!!!!!  John Harwood was on.   (and it appears as though Kelly O’Donnell, among others)

Lindsay Graham was scheduled to be on MTP this Sunday.

Time Magazine just listed him as one of the 100 Most Influential People In The World.

Brokaw:  he was called today “a little after 2:00” this aft.  They said, “He’s collapsed.  It doesn’t look good.”

Tim loved the game of politics.  He always said, “I have a face for radio.”  Hair spray never touched his Irish locks.

He was clinical.  He diagnosed people.

He was the brightest aide on Capital Hill.  He knew where everything was.

He and Brokaw were both big Chuck Berry fans!  They had a bet who was going to lose the most weight – and the winner would get a platinum Chuck Berry record!

He was also hugely into Springsteen – was more into than anyone around him at a recent concert.

He was burning it at both ends.

His dad just went into an assisted-living facility in Buffalo.

His son was really into politics too, and had just graduated college with a major in history.

Chris Matthews at 8:20 – He was “us” as a country.  He was role model for me.  He was the hardest worker he ever saw.  The preparation.  There is no one who beat him.  He constantly reminded us to look for the truth.  It was a competitive business, but he shared with everybody.  The David Duke take-down.  Tim didn’t say Duke was a racist — he forced Duke show it himself.

We lost the quarterback tonight.

How he got Moynihan through his first re-election.

17½ years on MTP.  The longest serving host ever.

He reinvigorated the Sunday morning news shows – he forced the other networks to step up.

Frank Rich (NY Times):  He changed Sunday Morning.  It was the biggest meeting of newsmakers.  There isn’t another single entity in news that had this position.  Yet he wore himself lightly.  He took on the most powerful people in America — but he was never a gotcha wise-guy.

History is about stories – and he understood it and could bring it out of others.

David Gregory – there’s a crater left here in the news world.

He jumped through the phone with enthusiasm.  He had such a joy for children.

Bob Scheffer his competitor from Face The Nation:  “He made me better.”

Obama:  He was the standard bearer for good journalism.  But also a great person.

John Edwards:  He was the yardstick by which every other journalist was measured.

“Go get ‘em.”  was his written sign-off line to good colleagues.

Now he’s gone.



You can read this and 50 other Political Adventure Tales & Tributes like it in my 2020 book Blissfully Ravaged in Democracy — Adventures in Politics — 1980–2020.

For a full listing of great reporters and news sources — check out my Political Sources Primer.

For how well these sources work — check out my 2012 election predictions.

… or here’s the 2008 projections — in both, I’m over 98% correct.  😉

For an account of the most jubilant night in the history of New York — check the Election Night 2008 Adventure

For a night in New York that started out just as joyous — check out the Election Night 2004 Adventure.

For one of the most historic events in American history — check out my Obama Inauguration Adventures.

For how Woodstock promoter Michael Lang used my reports in his book — check out how Obama’s Inauguration was like Woodstock.

For the kind of creations that got us across the historic finish line — check out my poem and video for Where Wayward Jekylls Hyde.

For an on-the-campaign-trail adventure — check out the physical altercation I was in the middle of with Al Franken at a Howard Dean rally.



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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Brian Humniski // Aug 2, 2013 at 11:13 AM

    We still miss him today. What an model for clear thinking.

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