All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up

17 June 2008

Sunday Mornings with Tim

I am blessed with the opportunity to spend an entire week reading and thinking and preparing for Meet the Press. It is sobering to think that on a Sunday morning across the table at Meet The Press you are making history,but you are ....Tim Russert
He was my Sunday morning steady date. Sure I "wandered" out with George from time to time, but Tim was the guy I could always count on. On Friday his family, his network and his viewers lost one of the true "Good Guys". Tim Russert died suddenly in his office, he was just 58 years old.

In an age of chiseled, buffed and coiffed anchors, Tim was a Teddy Bear of a man who as Tom Brokaw reminisced had three tailors-"L, L and Bean". He was an "every day" guy, from humble roots, with a a strong sense of family, country and faith. A smile and laugh that made you know this guy was the real deal. A voice like your favorite old sweatshirt, comfortable and familiar. He was a real sports fan who adored baseball and rejoiced in his Buffalo Bills. His son Luke was the light of his life. I can remember how he described picking up his son from school on September 11 and the discussion of what it all meant with his young son. I never knew Tim Russert but if this sounds as if I did it is because he came across to his audience as the man he was.

Beyond the warm and gregarious gentle man was an extraordinary mind. He was perhaps the most brilliant political observer in the country. The consummate political junkie who prepared and studied so that his guests would all but fall off their chairs with what Tim Russert hit them with, and his audience could just sit back and listen.

Each Sunday morning he would greet viewers with "our issues this Sunday.." and welcomed them in as he would welcome his guests. He was a wonderful Host, but a Host that could disarm the most belligerent, difficult, determined guest with not only his charm but especially his tough unequaled preparedness. He could match wits and stand toe to toe with anyone who sat in that guest seat ...they never saw him coming, you don't see a Teddy Bear coming at you. This Teddy Bear,however, had a prosecutors quick analytical mind and a sense of politics honed while working with Mario Cuomo and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He never came to a Sunday without an arsenal to work his guests, if they were not as prepared as Tim,if they couldn't run the Russert gauntlet, they paid the price.

Tim Russert was given the role of host of Meet the Press in 1991-he had no on camera experience...what he did have was an unmatched political eye, the ability to communicate on a level that was easy and open, filled with trust, he spoke to and with his audience, not at them or above them-there was no elitism to this man who sat with every major newsmaker for over 17 years. He could make the most complex issues clear and he cut through the Washington speak. He understood that in Iowa they just want the truth and thus transformed the venerable news show.

It is somehow both tragic and fitting that the tribute Meet The Press show hosted by Tom Brokaw aired on Father's Day. Tim Russet was a devoted son who wrote in his book Big Russ, one of the loveliest tributes to a Father, that the person he most wanted to interview was not some elusive world leader or newsmaker but his own Dad. Anyone who knew of Tim Russert also knew of his son Luke -a relationship that was inseparable. "Luke I am proud to be your Dad he said on a Father's Day close. Luke who just graduated from Boston College has said that Meet the Press was his Dad's other son. Luke, just setting out on his life has been thrown a curve ball unlike any other. For those of us who have lived through(not survived, but lived through) the sudden death of someone we love, we know too well the pain that will never leave Luke as he walks his journey without his beloved Dad.
It is Tim cutting through it all that I will always remember. Through the endless Election night of 2000 Tim chose a simple white board and marker with the words "Florida, Florida, Florida" to make the point that it all came down to that state for the outcome. That marker and white board will forever represent the Russert way, easy, to the point, on the mark. He has been quoted as saying he "couldn't believe" he was getting paid to cover this election, it was that much fun for him, and he made it even more fun for us. Oh how we will miss him this November election one will or could do it better. "If it is Sunday, it is Meet the Press" can be no more...Sunday mornings are now dark. Thank you Tim Russert.