Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

A friend of mine with some connections with NBC emailed late this afternoon simply asking if I had heard about Tim Russert. Actually, I was probably one of the first people who do not work for NBC who knew, maybe one of the first 100 people on earth, about an hour before NBC announced it.

My son had arrived at the NBC bureau to do a couple of live spots on MSNBC, and was aware something had happened to Russert. When he was finished getting his makeup removed, he saw producers he knew looking distraught and was told Russert was dead. Since my son does not work for a news organization that could make use of the fact, he called me. It is one of those things everyone reading this understands – the pathological need (in this case possibly genetic) to tell everything you know as soon as possible. Because he is an accomplished newsman, I believed my son, but because in my eyes he is always a little kid, I did wonder about possible exaggeration. So I turned on WTOP (no TV in my new workplace) and waited.

I have very mixed feelings about Russert, especially as I listen to the encomiums now being spoken on his network, some of which I think were damning.

"A great loss politically." (No, maybe journalistically, except Tim thought he was still in politics the way he preached at the end of every Meet the Press and made himself the star of the show.)

"The ultimate Washington insider." (This is something to boast of?)

"He just returned from Italy" (And Chris Matthews phoned in his memories from Paris.)

“A blue collar guy.” (So? Like the rest of us never worked hard, never started out with nothing, never had a dad who worked all day? I am sorry but “blue-collar” doesn’t do it for me. His colleague in flag-waving, Chris Matthews, sent me up all four walls every day that he said Obama has to appeal “to the regular people.” Huh? That blue-collar appeal must be why Russert made so many appearances on the Imus program.)

"When he called, no one put him on hold." (Geez, when UPI was important, few newsmakers or sources put ME on hold)

"He's involved in so many charities." (Didn’t the nuns teach him to do these things anonymously, or at least quietly?)

"Just a boy from Buffalo..." (Everyone is from somewhere! Buffalo when he was born was a major city, unlike Yankton, SD, where Brokaw grew up. I wonder who will get Russert’s dugout seats at Nationals Park. David Gregory already noted that they were far better than his own up-front seats. I think Gregory has his eye on Russert's better seat -- hosting Meet the Press.)

"His proudest picture was of his getting his father in to meet the pope." (OK, I got my kids some autographs from celebrities, but why are journalists meeting the pope, much less making it a family outing?)

He was great for journalism and, apparently his best legacy will be the talent he cultivated at NBC News. I actually liked him, and he was good to me when he worked on the Hill and for a time after. But unless he has a killer guest, I have been watching the second half hour of Stephanopoulos instead and feeling I am not missing anything except unctuous personal comments about family, God, the flag and Russert’s friends and sports teams. Lately, his programs have had no guests except his pals in the media sprinkled with celebrity historians.

CBS’ Bob Schieffer said that whenever he went up against Russert and won, in journalism or in various pranks, he felt like he had hit a home run off the best pitcher.

My opinion isn't worth a hill of beans, but I do believe he had lost his fastball in recent years, becoming so chummy with the powerful -- and becoming so powerful himself -- that he stopped going for the devastating follow-up questions when interviewing the command structure of the United States.

So, yes, I had heard, and like many others I will miss him, especially for the seriousness he brought back to broadcast journalism. I fear that NBC and CBS when Schieffer retires and Couric flames out, will get out of the news business altogether.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:38 PM

    Thank you, Ira! I thought I was the only person who saw a smug, overrated coaster in this fairly competent and tremendously lucky journalist. And while that doesn't mean that he should have died at such a young age, the lavish praise from his colleagues, though expected, leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.

    You speak the truth.