Interviewing the Interviewer

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I interviewed Tim Russert when he was inducted into our Hall of Fame in 2006.

Interviewing a journalist with the reputation as the premiere interviewer of his age is already a daunting task. He didn’t make it any easier when he said to me early in the interview that one of the things that bothers him the most is “someone merely reading questions that they didn’t write or didn’t think about and were devoid of any follow-up.”

Not surprisingly, I made sure I got through the interview without reading any of the questions and I asked several follow-ups. I don’t think he did it to disarm me. Perhaps, instead, it was to arm me, since that was the end result.

But it didn’t really matter either way. He was gracious with his time, spoke in engaging and easily quotable passages, and when the interview was done talked with me about our respective fathers, who had both served in World War II, and about the quiet dignity with which many of that generation carried the mantle of saving the world.

From that conversation it was clear how much he loved his country and journalism and the opportunities both had afforded him to make his father proud of him.

Russert spoke the language of the ordinary Joe or Jane, and was able to translate politics and current events for them–and in most cases "them" is "us"–into plain talk without being condescending, even though you knew he was one of the smartest people in the room.

“When I am watching a football game and John Madden is explaining things in layman’s language," he told me in that interview,."’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.” 

He was right, as usual.

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