Farewell, Tim Russert

Tim Russert, whom I only knew through his work, seemed a good man: hard-working, well-prepared, bursting with energy, and infectiously ebullient. Judging by the farewell he got from his television news colleagues yesterday, he was also a major political figure. One might have thought that a political figure of the magnitude of a one term ex-president had passed away, based on the prominence and amount of time devoted to his death. That Tim Russert rated this level of attention is both a tribute to him and a commentary on the level of admiration he enjoyed in his slightly solipsistic profession.

His family has everyone's deep sympathy for their sudden loss. His father, about whom he has written and spoken memorably, faces a fate everyone hopes to avoid, the death of a child. His wife Maureen Orth, whose writing I have admired, has lost her life's companion. And his son Luke, also a media figure thanks to his father's inability to avoid a personal subject about which he cared so deeply, has a profound loss. His cousins (one of whom I know) and other family members also deserve our sympathy, for they also have lost a man who believed in and practiced family ties.

Tim Russert actually prepared for his on-air interviews, principally on Meet The Press, by extensive research, and "invented" (according to more than one pundit I saw mourning his loss) the practice of digging up instances where a figure had spoken publicly about a subject in the past, and confronting him or her with contrary words from the past when a position had changed.

This is, of course, standard practice for trial lawyers (Russert had a law degree). In the course of deposition and trial testimony as an expert witness, I have been confronted with my past public words on a subject, as have many others. Opposition research in politics (Russert's first profession) also specializes in digging out embarrassing words from the past, as in examples of flip-flopping on important public issues.  But for television news, this level of preparation was seen as an innovation, and a raising of standards.  Russert deserves our thanks for awakening his television colleagues to the possibilities of research.

Nearly everyone commenting on Russert's passing noted how kind and giving he was to virtually everyone. As much or more than his journalistic prowess, this practice of cheerful interpersonal generosity may account for the extraordinary effect the news of his death has had on his colleagues. When someone we like, whose company we find enjoyable, is suddenly taken from us, the sense of loss, and of human impermanence, is heightened. It is almost like losing one of the anchors we have to the notion that life is worth living.

And of course there is his relative youth. At 58, Tim Russert was at one of the pinnacles of his profession, and should have had a couple of decades to look forward to. But like so many of us American men in our prime, Russert possessed a physique reflecting long hours in front of a desk and too few hours of exercise. His legendary devotion to work may be seen as a contributing factor, if it did indeed prevent him from getting exercise. I confess that his death has motivated me to examine my own balance between sitting at a desk and getting out and exercising. It seems hard to believe that a man so brimming with life force could so suddenly be alive no more.

Though Tim Russert was a Democrat through and through in his background, I agree that he was an example of fairness that the rest of his profession would do well to emulate. When I would become frustrated with his performance interviewing a major figure on television, it was usually because he did not pursue a particular line of questioning that probably never occurred to him, owing to his basic perspective. It was virtually never because he lobbed a softball question or failed to follow-up on an issue he had raised. I had the feeling that if I had been able to raise to him the issue I though he should have raised, that he would at least listen, and would pursue the question if he could see a reason to do so. One can ask no more, really.

I have to wonder how Tim Russert dealt with the increasingly leftist bent at NBC News. His own conduct was very different from that of colleagues like Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, and yet he appeared with them and tolerated their often embarrassing ideological excesses. It would seem as though MSNBC in particular had a mandate to pursue the left-leaning audience at the expense of political balance. And because the line between NBC and its two cable networks was so blurry, did this lack of balance bother Tim Russert? Did it provide an extra level of stress in a stressful profession?

We will never know, in all probability.

A good and decent man has left us. Those who knew him are visibly moved. Those of us who only saw him on television have a familiar figure in our lives, a part of Sunday's ritual, suddenly gone, all too early in his life course.

Rest in Peace, Tim Russert. You lived a good, honest, honorable life, and will be remembered as a major figure in an important profession.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.
Tim Russert, whom I only knew through his work, seemed a good man: hard-working, well-prepared, bursting with energy, and infectiously ebullient. Judging by the farewell he got from his television news colleagues yesterday, he was also a major political figure. One might have thought that a political figure of the magnitude of a one term ex-president had passed away, based on the prominence and amount of time devoted to his death. That Tim Russert rated this level of attention is both a tribute to him and a commentary on the level of admiration he enjoyed in his slightly solipsistic profession.

His family has everyone's deep sympathy for their sudden loss. His father, about whom he has written and spoken memorably, faces a fate everyone hopes to avoid, the death of a child. His wife Maureen Orth, whose writing I have admired, has lost her life's companion. And his son Luke, also a media figure thanks to his father's inability to avoid a personal subject about which he cared so deeply, has a profound loss. His cousins (one of whom I know) and other family members also deserve our sympathy, for they also have lost a man who believed in and practiced family ties.

Tim Russert actually prepared for his on-air interviews, principally on Meet The Press, by extensive research, and "invented" (according to more than one pundit I saw mourning his loss) the practice of digging up instances where a figure had spoken publicly about a subject in the past, and confronting him or her with contrary words from the past when a position had changed.

This is, of course, standard practice for trial lawyers (Russert had a law degree). In the course of deposition and trial testimony as an expert witness, I have been confronted with my past public words on a subject, as have many others. Opposition research in politics (Russert's first profession) also specializes in digging out embarrassing words from the past, as in examples of flip-flopping on important public issues.  But for television news, this level of preparation was seen as an innovation, and a raising of standards.  Russert deserves our thanks for awakening his television colleagues to the possibilities of research.

Nearly everyone commenting on Russert's passing noted how kind and giving he was to virtually everyone. As much or more than his journalistic prowess, this practice of cheerful interpersonal generosity may account for the extraordinary effect the news of his death has had on his colleagues. When someone we like, whose company we find enjoyable, is suddenly taken from us, the sense of loss, and of human impermanence, is heightened. It is almost like losing one of the anchors we have to the notion that life is worth living.

And of course there is his relative youth. At 58, Tim Russert was at one of the pinnacles of his profession, and should have had a couple of decades to look forward to. But like so many of us American men in our prime, Russert possessed a physique reflecting long hours in front of a desk and too few hours of exercise. His legendary devotion to work may be seen as a contributing factor, if it did indeed prevent him from getting exercise. I confess that his death has motivated me to examine my own balance between sitting at a desk and getting out and exercising. It seems hard to believe that a man so brimming with life force could so suddenly be alive no more.

Though Tim Russert was a Democrat through and through in his background, I agree that he was an example of fairness that the rest of his profession would do well to emulate. When I would become frustrated with his performance interviewing a major figure on television, it was usually because he did not pursue a particular line of questioning that probably never occurred to him, owing to his basic perspective. It was virtually never because he lobbed a softball question or failed to follow-up on an issue he had raised. I had the feeling that if I had been able to raise to him the issue I though he should have raised, that he would at least listen, and would pursue the question if he could see a reason to do so. One can ask no more, really.

I have to wonder how Tim Russert dealt with the increasingly leftist bent at NBC News. His own conduct was very different from that of colleagues like Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, and yet he appeared with them and tolerated their often embarrassing ideological excesses. It would seem as though MSNBC in particular had a mandate to pursue the left-leaning audience at the expense of political balance. And because the line between NBC and its two cable networks was so blurry, did this lack of balance bother Tim Russert? Did it provide an extra level of stress in a stressful profession?

We will never know, in all probability.

A good and decent man has left us. Those who knew him are visibly moved. Those of us who only saw him on television have a familiar figure in our lives, a part of Sunday's ritual, suddenly gone, all too early in his life course.

Rest in Peace, Tim Russert. You lived a good, honest, honorable life, and will be remembered as a major figure in an important profession.

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.