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Remembering Tim Russert


Tim Russert died yesterday. He was only 58. He was many things in his life, a lawyer, political aid, a best-selling author. But far and away, his leading role was as a political analyst and the long time host of Meet the Press on NBC. NPR's David Folkenflik has this remembrance.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: It can be honestly said Tim Russert loved his work. Russert wasn't just happy reporting on politics, he was exuberant.

Mr. TIM RUSSERT (Political Anaylst, Meet the Press host): I think Bill Clinton is the nominee to the Democratic Party, plain and simple, period. After that major scandal that he survives the minor ones, but he will.

There they are in yellow, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan

…and Friday you said, it's been a rough couple weeks. An understatement. What has the controversy over Reverent Jeremiah Wright done to your campaign?

FOLKENFLIK: Russert was born to a blue-collar family in Buffalo. His dad was a garbage collector, and Russert took that blue-collar sensibility with him when he went to work for two New York political giants, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and former governor Mario Cuomo. New NBC News President Lawrence Grossman hired him as his deputy in 1984. Grossman says there were concerns over Russert's political past, but that colleagues were won over by…

Mr. LAWRENCE GROSSMAN (NBC News President): …Tim's impartiality, by his common sense, by his sensitivity about ethics and the need to be fair and objective.

FOLKENFLIK: Russert quickly jumped to reporting at NBC's Washington Bureau. And in 1991, he took over Meet the Press and revived the quintessential, but frane Sunday political interview show. Veteran Political Journalist Al Hunt, one of his best friends, calls Russert's show the gold standard.

Mr. AL HUNT (Political Journalist): If you really wanted to play in the big leagues, you went on Meet the Press.

FOLKENFLIK: In this clip from August 2006, amid a growing scandal, the notoriously press-shy Vice President Dick Cheney faced questions about the Bush Administration's push for a war in Iraq.

Mr. RUSSERT: And the meeting with Atta did not occur.

Vice President DICK CHENEY (United States): We don't know, nobody has been able to confirm -

Mr. RUSSERT: Then why in the lead-up to the war was there the constant linkage between Iraq and al-Qaeda?

FOLKENFLIK: Al Hunt is now Washington Managing Editor of Bloomberg News. He says he once heard Russert explain his approach to the show.

Mr. HUNT: It was like a great lawyer preparing for the most important argument of his life, or a great professor preparing for a critical lecture. Tim was just so totally committed to seeking truth.

FOLKENFLIK: Russert collapsed at work yesterday and could not be revived. He's survived by his wife, the magazine writer Maureen Orth, his son Luke, and his father, Big Russ, whom he wrote about in his first of two best-selling books. The NBC Bureau Chief's death was utterly unexpected and is proving especially hard for his friends to absorb. The man flat out loved covering politics and this year, Russert was reveling in one of the most compelling presidential races in decades.

David Folkenflik, NPR News.

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.