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Meet the Press host Tim Russert dead at age 58

13

June

Tim_russert_hi_2 The TV news world is in shock following news released not long ago that Meet the Press host Tim Russert has died of a heart attack at age 58.

According to a bulletin read by former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw on NBC this afternoon, Russert collapsed in NBC's offices. Already, the cable channels are filling with tributes to the burly Buffalo Bills fan, who stood as TV's pre-eminent voice on politics, hosting the highest-rated, longest-running political show on network television.

STATEMENT FROM STEVE CAPUS, NBC News president

"This is a loss for the entire nation. Everyone at NBC News is in shock and absolutely devastated. He was our respected colleague, mentor, and dear friend.  Words can not express our heartbreak. Our thoughts and prayers are with Maureen, Luke, Big Russ and all of Tim’s family."

Statement from Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal on the passing of Tim Russert

"We are heartbroken at the sudden passing of Tim Russert. We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family and the news world has lost one of its finest. The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated. More than a journalist, Tim was a remarkable family man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, their son, Luke, and Tim’s entire extended family."

QUOTE FROM BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT ANDANCHOR, “FACE THE NATION”

“Tim was the best of our profession.  He asked the best questions and then he listened for the answer.  We became very close friends over the years.  He delighted in scooping me and I felt the same way when I scooped him.  When you slipped one past ol’ Russert, you felt as though you had hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league.  I just loved Tim and I will miss him more than I can say, and my heart goes out to his son, Luke, and his wife, Maureen.”

Following is a exceprt of the initial NBC News and MSNBC coverage of Russert's passing:

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  I'm Tom Brokaw, NBC News.  And it's my sad duty to report this afternoon that my friend and colleague, Tim Russert, the moderator of "MEET THE PRESS" and NBC's Washington Bureau Chief, collapsed and died early this afternoon while at work in the NBC news bureau in Washington.  Tim had just returned from a family trip to Italy with his wife, Maureen Orth, the writer, and his son, Luke.  They were celebrating Luke's graduation from Boston College just this spring.  Tim, of course, has been the host of "MEET THE PRESS" longer than any other person in that long-running television broadcast.  He has been a very familiar face on this network and throughout the world of political journalism as one of the premier political analysts and journalists of his time. 

I wrote a tribute to Russert for the magazine Newsmax not long ago. So until I can cobble together something better, here's a sample of that story, reprinted on my blog:

"For many political junkies, a major electoral contest isn’t decided until Big Russ Jr – Meet the Press host Tim Russert, that is – delivers his final pronouncement.

In this year’s Democratic contest, that moment came May 6, following election results in Indiana and North Carolina, when Russert, speaking as NBC’s Washington bureau chief and the voice of traditional TV political journalism, pronounced Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes all but finished.

“We now know who the Democratic nominee is gonna be, and no one’s gonna dispute it,” said Russert on MSNBC, calling the race for Barack Obama. “Sometimes in campaigns, the candidate is the last to recognize the right timing.”

Given Clinton’s current tenaciousness as a candidate, it remains to be seen whether she’ll take Russert’s prediction to heart. But it was a momentous announcement for Obama, because in TV political circles, Russert’s brand is strong as E.F. Hutton’s – and when he speaks, the entire political establishment listens.

It’s a credibility which has come from 17 years spent hosting the highest-rated Sunday talk show on TV, NBC’s 60-year-old Meet the Press. It’s also a weight which has come courtesy of a raft of spot-on assessments – from predicting Bill Clinton’s clinching of the Democratic nomination in the 1990s to forecasting Florida as a battleground state in the 2000 presidential election and foreseeing Ohio as the key electoral contest in 2004.

Besides nailing the numbers, Russert excels at communicating complex political information simply – a style he credits his 80something father Tim Russert Sr., the original Big Russ, for encouraging him to develop.

“On election night 2000…trying to make sense of the election results, I started writing, in bold print on the back of a legal pad, the names of the states that were still being contested,” Russert wrote in his book about his father, Big Russ and Me. “As I added new states and crossed out others, and held up my homemade chart to the camera, I could almost see my dad nodding his head and saying, ‘Now I understand. Now I get it. Keep it simple. Forget those fancy computers.’”

The Washington Post gave him credit for coining the terms “red state” and “blue state” to explain the divide between Democrats and Republicans, while TV Guide named his use of the dry-erase board during election coverage in 2000 among the 100 most memorable moments in TV History.

It’s an amazing journey for a kid from a working-class Irish neighborhood in Buffalo, N.Y., who parlayed a law degree from Cleveland State University into jobs working as U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s chief of staff and a counselor to then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo before joining NBC News in 1984.

Four years later, Russert, now 58, became Washington bureau chief for NBC, taking over as Meet the Press host in 1991.

Russert has his critics. Liberal blogger and columnist Arianna Huffington has long accused the host of cozying up to the very Washington power brokers he should be vetting, a sentiment which re-emerged during the investigation of the revelation of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity, when Vice President Dick Cheney’s office admitted their fondness for appearing on Russert’s show to disseminate his point of view.

But after 30 years on both sides of political media fence, Russert has developed a thick skin. “People often ask how difficult is it to go toe to toe with the nation's leaders on Meet The Press,” he said during a 2003 radio interview. “I tell them after walking backwards in the snow to school in South Buffalo, everything else is easy.”

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:47pm]

    

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