Thank You Tim Russert.
If it’s Sunday . . . it’s “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert.
Starting when they were very young, I began to teach my three children this phrase. (Sure, it doesn’t have the clever ring of your standard nursery rhyme, but this is what happens when your mom’s a politics and news junkie.)
I’d enthusiastically point to the TV – featuring the mug of the man who had a thousand, detailed and well researched questions ready to pose to politicians and policy makers – and tell my kids that NBC’s Tim Russert was a really smart guy whose words about politics they should heed.
After years and years of my repeating the, “If it’s Sunday” line, it finally stuck. “Hey guys,” I’d say in an annoying, sing-song voice on a Sunday morning as I flipped on the TV, “’If it’s Sunday . . .” Then I’d wait, silently, expectantly, for the kids to fill in the rest.
“(*Audible groans, silent shaking of heads*) It’s ‘Meet the Press’ with Tim Russert,” they’d finally grumble in a monotone. They knew if they didn’t respond, I’d just keep asking until they did.
When my father, a fellow news junkie, called to tell me that that Russert had died on Friday afternoon, I was heart broken. Russert, the host of the gold standard in Sunday political talk shows, was a role model, an Edward R. Murrow to my generation of journalists. I sat on my sofa, transfixed by the cable TV coverage and thought about what had been lost in that afternoon.
As my children wandered through the room at different times and told me they were sorry that Russert had died, I thought about what his abrupt absence from the world of political journalism would mean.
Without Russert on the air on Sunday mornings, future and upcoming journalists have been robbed of the lessons they could’ve learned from him. While teaching journalism students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst , I had used Russert -- who had worked for Democratic politicians in his pre-journalism life -- as an example of how one can be a fair, exquisitely prepared and smart interviewer. “Watch him interview someone and try to discern if he has a bias,” I’d challenge them. Then I’d put on a video of Russert, have them watch the man in action and afterwards we’d discuss at length the art of an expertly researched question.
Without Russert, as a voter I have lost an important gauge that I used to measure national politicians for whom I considered voting. He was akin to a one-man vetting machine. If a politician could make it through a Russert interview without looking like a double-talking blowhard trying to slime out of questions, then I could consider that individual as potentially worthy of my vote. I cannot imagine what it’s now going to be like to watch the coverage of this exciting presidential race without him, without his insight, without his no-frills white board explaining in plain English what’s going on and what’s at stake.