The Meet the Press edition for which Tim Russert was preparing when he died Friday of a sudden heart attack was hosted Sunday by NBC colleague and former anchor Tom Brokaw. Brokaw gathered a small group of friends, all of whom had worked with Russert, to salute the man and his legacy in a touching tribute.
Similar tributes had been presented Friday, when news of his death dominated cable news as if a world leader had expired suddenly, and on NBC in a prime-time Friday special and a Saturday Today edition devoted to Russert. Chris Matthews also devoted his Sunday NBC show to his former colleague.
It was NBC’s flagship public affairs show, though, where Russert’s empty chair and the context of his 16-year reign on Meet the Press made the most impact. Brokaw was the perfect choice to preside over this warm conversation about Russert’s achievements, personality, passions and standards. And when Brokaw choked up at one point, forcing panelist Mike Barnicle to complete Brokaw’s thought and give the former anchorman time to regain his composure, all it did was underscore the point that these familiar newspeople and analysts were human, too.
The program ended with audio clips of Russert, accompanied by Bruce Springsteen singing “Thunder Road” – the song he performed live in concert Saturday night and dedicated to Russert, who had booked a then-unknown Springsteen to play at John Carroll University in Cleveland and become a loyal fan and friend ever since.
Russert’s fond nickname around NBC was Springsteen’s: “The Boss.” There’s no word yet on who will succeed Russert on Meet the Press, next week or permanently, but he’s one Boss who won’t be replaced easily.