Being on a trip many time zones away, I was late to hear the news about Tim Russert. After the shock, my wife and I talked about him for much of the evening.
The thing that always impressed me the most about him was his sense of fairness. Yes, he could be tough on politicians, but as far as I could tell, he treated everyone fairly and well, whether it was people across the ideological spectrum or across the economic and class spectrum. Even though he was at the absolute top of the Washington ziggurat, he had not a trace of elitism.
Most people don’t know that there is often a small audience watching tapings of “Meet the Press.” Seated in folding chairs on one side of the studio, many of them are out-of-towners. The times I have been there, several brought copies of Russert’s books for him to sign. He not only accommodated them; he talked to them at length, posed for pictures, and made them feel like friends.
I also remember in January, I think it was on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, going to John McCain’s last event in a suburb of Des Moines. It was a pretty small room, and there was a lot of press there; I got the sense that many of us thought we were watching a candidate who would soon be out of the race. Anyway, Russert and a group of NBC people showed up before McCain, and he just worked the room — smiles and good words for the many people who approached him. This is not a criticism, but George Stephanopoulos was standing nearby, pretty much by himself, while Russert attracted a gaggle of admirers. He was just that way, and, just like the people in the NBC studio, they left happy.
All that, of course, was on top of how skillfully he did his job. I was always struck by how much he loved “Meet the Press.” It is one of the great franchises in American television and political history, and he was incredibly diligent about being a good caretaker of the program. And what a great caretaker he was, lifting it from the doldrums to the top and keeping it there.
This is an awful loss to all of us that’s going to be felt for a long, long time.