No one is better at cutting through D.C. jargon, getting the truth and making it all look easy
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/22/2006 8:00:00 PM
The Power of the Press
Meet the Press moderator and NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert does his homework, which is one of the reasons he is at the head of his class among Sunday-morning political talk shows and is recognized as one of the best—if not the best—interviewers in TV.
Another reason for his success is that Russert sees his mission as cutting through the Washington jargon to get to the core of the issues and present them in layman’s terms.
“I don’t talk about 'S. 1483’ or 'markups in committees’ or insider talk. I try to draw people out and ask questions that the guy sitting in Buffalo [N.Y.] would ask,” says Russert, who rarely misses an opportunity to mention his hometown in casual conversation. “It is important that you crystallize a subject so people can understand it, get their arms around it and make a thoughtful decision.”
A lawyer by training, Russert had worked as an aide to Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Senate and as a counselor to New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in Albany. “He thinks like a lawyer,” says Cuomo. “He’s always asking, 'Why?’ He’s got all the gifts. And he’s from an old-fashioned family that learned to get ahead by outworking you. After you stop doing your research, he’ll start.”
Russert was headed toward a career in law when, in 1984, Leonard Garment, former counsel to Richard Nixon, asked him as a favor to talk with Larry Grossman, who was then leaving PBS to head up NBC News. Grossman was seeking some frank appraisals of television news.
Russert’s assessment: “I thought some of the reporters were very good and thorough and knowledgeable. I thought some were not and somewhat superficial. I thought that some people prepared and some didn’t.”
And to this day, he says nothing bothers him more than “someone merely reading questions that they didn’t write or didn’t think about and were devoid of any follow-up.”
That’s not Russert’s style by a long shot. He has a simple but time-tested method: Remember “all the things they taught you in school. Read your lesson before class. Go to class. Pay attention so you’ll be ready for the final exam without having to pull all-nighters. I didn’t do it in school, but that’s what I do now.”
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams calls Russert the best-prepared broadcaster on TV.
“Tim has Washington absolutely wired,” Williams says, “and he follows the first rule of power in that city: Wear it softly. He builds his case, each Sunday morning, like the trained attorney he is.
“We are both Irish-Catholic kids from upstate New York,” Williams continues. “I know who Tim is, and he knows me. No one knows how to conduct an interview like Tim. If it looks easy, it’s only because Tim has worked so hard at it.”
Grossman offered Russert a job as his assistant. Soon he was working as a producer with Today show Executive Producer Steve Friedman to take that program back to the top of the ratings pile; it had fallen behind Good Morning America.
In 1988, Russert moved to Washington as bureau chief for NBC, “running my own operation rather than being an assistant.” But he had been working behind the scenes until he went on-air in 1990 with some analysis for Today and took over Meet the Press in 1991.
In December, Russert celebrates 15 years with Meet the Press. The show itself is 59, the longest-running TV program in history.
Russert’s fan club includes some of his top competitors.
“Tim developed the technique most effectively of getting the sound bites of things people have said and making sure it’s up there on a Chyron so that it cannot be avoided and it cannot be denied,” says former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel, who knows a thing or two about interviewing important people.
“Tim and I share a philosophy of what news is,” says Bob Schieffer, Russert’s opposite number at CBS as anchor of Sunday-morning show Face the Nation. “We’re not too interested in bells and whistles. Tim said to me one time, 'You know what our jobs are about? We turn on the light, and we ask people questions, then listen to see what their answer is.’”
Says Russert, a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan, “When I am watching a football game and John Madden is explaining things in layman’s language—'There they are on the line … watch out for that linebacker’—that’s what I try to do with Washington: explain it to people in an understandable and meaningful way. And I think that is important work.”
This is about Senator Clintonâ€™s continuing advocacy of Senator McCain as Commander In Chief. Post-Texas/Ohio morning, on CNN, and on a number of other occasions, Senator Clinton stated that only TWO of the remaining three candidates for President are fit to be Commander In Chief: Herself and Senator McCAIN, the REPUBLICAN nominee. This is a truly remarkable statement, almost beyond belief, since it implies the following:
1. If Clinton is NOT nominated as the DEMOCRATIC Candidate, then voters should elect McCain as the REPUBLICAN Commander In Chief, and therefore as PRESIDENT. Seems it must be either CLINTONâ€™s way, or the OTHER PARTYâ€™S way. Sounds like either Clinton must be the teamâ€™s goalkeeper, or, if she must sit on the bench for this game, sheâ€™d prefer that the OPPOSING TEAM win! Difficult to see her devotion to the Democratic Party in this!! Could it be that Senator Clinton is really more important for America than the Democratic Party?!! Wonder what SUPERDELEGATES think, or should think about this.
2. Clinton is advocating that the troops in Iraq be withdrawn beginning in 60 days, while McCain is advocating that the troops be kept in Iraq indefinitely. So it seems that Clinton is saying it is important to bring the troops home if SHE brings them home, but it would be OK to leave them in Iraq if McCain, her second pick, kept them there. It seems strange that the LIVES of some of the soldiers serving in Iraq should be saved ONLY if Clinton wins. Does she want them brought home badly enough to let a possible President Obama bring them home?
3. By trying so determinedly to belittle the capabilities of Obama as a possible Commander In Chief, Clinton seems to be handing the Presidential debates on a platter to McCain, in the event that Obama should be the Democratic nominee. Is this what she really wants to do? Is this what the Democratic Party would stand for? Wonder what SUPERDELEGATES think, or should think about this.
THERE NEEDS TO BE MUCH MORE PUBLIC DEBATE AND EXPOSURE THAN THERE HAS BEEN OF WHAT CLINTONâ€™S IMPLIED AIMS WOULD SEEM TO BE.
WHY ARE THE POWERFUL VOICES OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY SO QUIET ON SUCH AN IMPORTANT ISSUE AS WHETHER THE FATE OF A SINGLE CANDIDATE CAN BE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE FATE OF THE PARTY AS A WHOLE?
Keith Glegg - 3/10/2008 10:44:00 AM EDT
Tim Russert - you just gave HILLARY CLINTON a full hour of television time. This seems to be against the
law if you are not providing likewise to a Republican
candidate like FRED THOMPSON.
We all know that the Clintons told the whole world that they '..loathed the military..", yet you did not
say a word when she referred to our great troops as
"...America's finest..."! Remember Tim, this is the
woman that would not allow the marines in the whitehouse to wear their uniforms. This is the same
woman that told them to hand out hor d'ovres like some
waiter! Chelsea told the world that she too loathed
This woman, HILLARY, was so inconsistant and you never
You asked her twice how "SHE" felt about Obama and
his quest. Both times she did not answer the question
instead she said it was a question for the voters to
answer. She could have been 'honest' and given her own
opinion as you asked her to do.
This could go on and on but I have to get dinner on.
tess hagee - 1/13/2008 11:58:00 AM EST
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