I did not have the privilege of knowing Tim Russert. I don't even work in media, let alone NBC News. I'm nobody. Just a faithful viewer of Meet the Press, NBC News, and MSNBC. I just depended on my coffee with Mr. Russert every Sunday morning.
Tim Russert was a journalistic institution. Whether you agree with his interviewing methods or not, there can be no denying that the voice we lost on Friday was that of a humble, distinguished and passionate man who loved his job. It made him an enviable figure, how he came from a working-class background like so many of us and eventually got to do what made him the happiest. Not many of us can say that; we just lived vicariously through him. But it was obvious how lucky he knew he was, as if it could all end suddenly, which it so tragically did last week. His enthusiasm was pure, genuine, and infectious. (It even got some of us -- me -- to go back to college and study politics and media.)
For me, a viewer, Tim Russert was the Voice of Reason. While I regularly watched Meet the Press, it was his commentary and analysis on MSNBC, especially this year on primary nights, that I looked to the most. I like the MSNBC hosts. A lot. But after listening to them gleefully and loudly argue and interrupt each other, often spinning the words of candidates and other pundits 'round and 'round until they were near vomiting, I always wanted to know "But what does Russert think?" He could bring the spin to a halt. Don't get me wrong -- the lively discussion on MSNBC has its place, and I love it. But Russert was always able to cut through and put things in perspective. On MTP, I always thought how horrible it was when he went after "my guys," the people with whom I sided politically or ideologically, but how awesome it was when he went after "the other guys." Silly me -- he was going after everyone, just the same, all the time only seeking what we needed to hear: the truth. It always felt as if Tim Russert was on a mission to find the truth, not for himself, but for all of us. He wanted to share his adventure with everyone else.
Though it has been said many, many times in the past couple of days, in this historic presidential election, Russert's voice will be sorely, palpably missed.
But his audience's loss is nothing compared to his family's loss. It's cruel that Tim Russert missed Father's Day. His other pride and joy was his own father, Big Russ, and his wife, Maureen Orth, and son, Luke. He wrote two successful books about the love of family. And he didn't hide who he was when the cameras were off -- after hearing everyone talk about him this weekend, he was just as ebullient and real when he wasn't talking shop. This is probably what makes losing Russert so huge for those of us who didn't just appreciate him for his journalism, just for the guy he was. The Bills fan from Buffalo, New York. Luke's dad, Big Russ's son, Maureen's husband, a brother, uncle, cousin.
Then there is his other family at NBC, MSNBC, in Washington, DC and beyond. Watching MSNBC on Friday was virtually indescribable. A family in mourning, it was miraculous to see Russert's own colleagues pull themselves together enough after such a devastating shock so they could come on the air and tell us how honored they were to have worked with Russert and exactly why. MSNBC hasn't gotten stellar press lately, but it impossible to think that all of these people weren't united upon hearing the news that one of their own was suddenly gone. Generations of news anchors and commentators came on the air -- for themselves as much as for us -- to keep Tim Russert's memory alive. And some of them were visibly shaken. But they teamed up and did something bigger than themselves for the sake of the audience. I, for one, will be thankful to them for that.
One point that really got me Friday night was when Keith Olbermann anchored the coverage. He was talking about the affirmation he felt when, during a primary night, Russert said to him, "Good question." For anyone who has ever had a mentor, hearing someone you respect with all your being telling you that you're doing something good is the biggest benediction that you might be about a quarter as relevant as they are. Tim Russert told Keith Olbermann "Good question," and he told his other fellow journalists, "Go get 'em." And he probably had no idea how much it meant to them; he just believed in their abilities and wanted to tell them. That moment on Friday night with Keith, and more with another Russert charge, Chuck Todd, were simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.
I'll never forget this coverage, and I'll always remember when the NBC/MSNBC team came together to celebrate true journalism in the midst of such media scrutiny. There is no conceivable replacement for Tim Russert, and we will forever wonder what he would have said or written on a legal pad or the famous wipe-off board during the 2008 election. But everything NBC/MSNBC will do when covering politics will be dedicated to him, and God willing, they will inherit his perspective and truth-seeking nature.
As for those of us who only had the privilege of being a Russert fan from afar, it will simply not be Sunday without him. And this election will be painfully different. But what we were able to take from our years of being members of his audience, we will cherish. And you can bet that whoever takes Russert's place, if that's even possible, he or she will have gigantic shoes to fill.
Thank you, Mr. Russert.