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Political journalism lost one of its brightest, most prominent and professional practitioners last week. Tim Russert, moderator of “Meet the Press,” NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and political correspondent, died last Friday as a result of a heart attack suffered while working at the network’s Washington studios. Russert was 58 years old.
To fully understand the influence and impact Russert had with his audience, his weekly political guests, and peers within the profession one had only to observe the story leads and discussions throughout the weekend. Remembrances and stories of Russert and his relatively short career dominated the airwaves and Web sites of broadcast and cable news programs of both NBC and its fiercest competitors. In each setting, the journalists, national leaders and political insiders equally praised his professionalism and his humble, warm personality as well.
In contrast to other news reporting greats, Russert’s bright journalism star did not rise from out of one of the nation’s top journalism schools. His career began on the opposite side the microphone; among the ranks of those he’d ultimately be covering. Following his graduation from law school, Russert served as a counselor for New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and press secretary and chief of staff for New York Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan.
In 1984, he joined the NBC news division as a hands-on executive, becoming its Washington bureau chief and a senior vice president just four years later. Although Russert quickly proved his credibility and skill, making a solid name for himself as a journalist in those positions, his future legacy became fully sealed in 1991 when he took over “Meet the Press.”
There will be many things Russert’s audience, his NBC News and MTP guests and his professional peers will forever remember him for.
His tireless research of national and international political topics; his pursuit of truth without injecting personal opinion; his thorough preparation for Sunday’s MTP programs; his steadfast but respectful stare-down of quests as they attempted to dodge his probing questions; his on-air calculations of delegate and electorate college votes during campaign seasons and on election nights with his trademark dry erase markers and white board. These were all part of Russert’s persona. And equally important to his solid reputation, was his love and dedication to his own family and those of others.
The moderator’s chair at the angled MTP table will likely be filled with temporary but skilled stand-ins as NBC identifies Russert’s successor. Though the news show will go on as it has for many decades, Russert’s legacy will be felt. And though this robust and energetic personality – a true newsman’s newsman – has been laid to rest, his presence will be missed. A pro has most definitely passed.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.