Sunday, June 15, 2008

Three Views on Russert

Three memorials to highlight about Tim Russert:

Joe Klein - He Was Loving Life, after telling a fascinating story that he witness with Russert about Clinton in 1992, Klein finished his essay with this:
Tim was boggled by Clinton, impressed and appalled by him. The only real differences we had in 30 years of friendship were over his treatment of both Clintons, which I thought was occasionally too sharp — and had its roots, I believed, in the strict lessons about sex and probity he'd learned from the nuns (which he often joked about). Our last conversation, sadly, was an argument over that.

The last time I saw Tim on television was the night that Barack Obama secured the nomination — and he was, appropriately, telling a Big Russ story, about his dad nailing a John F. Kennedy sign on the side of the house in 1960. Tim asked, "'Why are we for Kennedy?' And my dad said, 'Because he's one of us.' And that's the big question Barack Obama is facing," he concluded, "Will Americans accept him as 'One of us.'" I remember thinking, "Ahh, Tim. We're getting old. Maybe Big Russ and my parents — and you and I — wonder if someone named Barack Obama is 'one of us,' but not our kids." I figured I'd mention it to him next time we talked. Now there won't be a next time. I can't get my head around that yet, except — it's so, so sad. He was loving this election, as much as any we'd covered. I just can't believe he won't be around to find out how it ends. My love to Maureen and Luke, Big Russ and Tim's sisters. And Tim, if they're pouring up there, save a stool for me.
There was a bit about that just the other week between Hendrick Hertzberg and Andrew Sullivan, which I wrote about two weeks ago, on the 29th of May.

Noam Scheiber at The New Republic writes, Tim Russert's Hidden Genius:

Like a lot of opinion journalists, I've been known to lament Tim Russert's central place in the media cosmos. Russert elevated the gotcha question into an occasionally tedious art form, then forced us to admire his handiwork. Those of us who believe a public official can be more than the sum of his inconsistencies--or, for that matter, less than the sum of his consistencies--sometimes had trouble forgiving him this.

But you have to give Russert his due. While just about every other mass-market news organ has suffered an absolute bloodletting these last two decades, the fortunes of "Meet the Press" have moved in the opposite direction.


The gotcha may have been a wearying journalistic device. But, as a strategy for getting big names in front of big audiences on a regular basis, and driving the political news cycle in a way that no other TV program could, it was a stunning success. For that, Russert deserves real credit.

And that's really what's been lost. No one has the stature to tell GE - no, we're not going to break for a commercial because this civic conversation is too important. No one.

David Remnick piece in The New Yorker, titled simply - Tim Russert
His preparation insured that a politician could not drift long in a mental comfort zone. After one particularly contentious Sunday session, John McCain recalled that he told Russert, “I hadn’t had so much fun since my last interrogation in prison camp.” That expression of grudging admiration may well have been McCain’s clever means of D.C. ingratiation, but one can guess it’s not one he would have thought to extend to most of Russert’s network and cable colleagues.


Russert did not come to television without an insider’s sense of politics as it is played on the ground. During Moynihan’s 1982 reĆ«lection campaign, it was Russert who pointed out to reporters inconsistencies in the record of a Republican opponent, Bruce Caputo: Caputo had claimed to be a draftee and an Army lieutenant when, in fact, he had taken a civilian job in the Defense Department as a way to avoid the draft. Caputo’s campaign ran to ground, and the phrase “to be Russerted” entered the lexicon of New York politics. “Get me a Russert,” Gary Hart later demanded of his staff. Lawrence Grossman, the president of NBC News, was so taken by Russert’s grasp of practical politics that he hired him as his assistant; eventually, Russert was appointed chief of the Washington bureau.

Russert was defined as much by what he was not as by what he was. He was not lazy or lax, he was not an ideologue or a cynic. Beyond his family, Russert’s passion was politics, and he cared enough about the game to try to keep it, and its players, honest.
Remnick also noted that some, like Arianna Huffington, wanted him to go "much farther." I often did too.

Now I can think of no one who even can. No one has the power, the stature, the guts to go farther.

That's what has been loss and it's hitting me harder today that it did immediately on Friday.

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