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The Last Reasonable Liberal

June 23, 2008


He believed in the truth he found in his Catholic faith. He was, by all accounts, a model son, husband, father and friend. He epitomized the adage that a man who finds what he loves will never work another day in his life, and yet his work ethic was unmatched in his profession. He was thoroughly prepared and always fair. He was fiercely loyal to his favorite sports teams, especially his beloved hometown professional football team, the Buffalo Bills. And he never forgot his roots.

Tim Russert passed into eternity last week, leaving behind a wife, a 22-year old son and a lot of friends, all of whom apparently adored him.

As a political junkie and an avid watcher of "Meet the Press," I believed him to be the best interviewer on television. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, if you went on Russert's show, you would always be asked the tough questions.

Tim Russert was a Democrat and probably a liberal, but his personal ideology was not the focus of his interviews. He came up through the ranks of New York politics as an aid to Gov. Mario Cuomo and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He joined NBC News in 1984 and became host of "Meet the Press" in 1991. In an era of partisan, ego-driven, gotcha journalism, where every pretty face on television thinks he or she is the next Walter Cronkite or Barbara Walters, Russert was a simple man who did one thing very well.

Of his interview style, he spoke of modeling himself after Lawrence Spivak, the first "Meet the Press" host six decades ago in the earliest days of television.

"I had a chance to talk to him before he died," Russert said. "He told me that the mission is to learn as much as you can about your guest, his or her positions on the issues, take the other side, be civil, and be persistent. That's what I do."

Tim Russert was perhaps the last reasonable liberal in the media. He never wore his partisan feelings on his sleeve. He could turn on the pressure in an interview, but you never sensed that he was being mean or uncivil. He had passion, but he also had the ability to be decent to people.

Russert was an optimist. He passionately loved his God, his family and his job, in that order. You could just picture him getting out of bed every morning and pinching himself to confirm his good fortune. He fiercely loved his father, "Big Russ," who worked two full-time jobs to make ends meet when Tim was growing up, and he desired to pass along those working class family values to his son, Luke.

"Big Russ," he would say, "always told me that no one owed me a favor. My challenge with my son, who has grown up meeting governors, senators and presidents, is to give him the knowledge that he is loved but not entitled."

The talk since his untimely death has been about who will replace him. The names being bandied about are a joke. Chris "I-feel-a-tingle-up-my-leg-when-I-hear-Obama-speak" Matthews? Please.  Keith "Bush-lied-people-died" Olberman? Yeah, that's a good plan for putting the show's ratings in the dumper. Or how about the preening David Gregory?

My personal choice would be the current host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe," former Florida Congressman Joe Scarborough, but there really is no one in the NBC Newsroom who can fill Russert's shoes at this critical moment in history.

Tim Russert will be greatly missed during this important presidential election campaign. Unlike most of his "colleagues" in the news division at the National Broadcasting Company, he never appeared to be acting as one of a hundred press secretaries for the Barack Obama campaign. With Russert gone, the tough interviews that might have taken place - with Obama and John McCain - simply will not be there. The venue is gone, along with its host, Tim Russert, dead at age 58.

Copyright ©2008 Doug Patton

Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.

 


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