Over the Top


The Tim Russert that was revealed through stories and tributes and more than a few tears last week was a workaholic who somehow still made time for his family. That alone makes him a kind of patron saint for journalists everywhere and justifies the just-short-of-reverential coverage that cynics, we thought ungenerously, were branding as over-the-top last week.

Our deadline on Friday the 13th allowed us to cobble together a story on his sudden death, but not to laud him. We need to. Russert entered B&C's Hall of Fame in 2006. At that time, in our profile of him, we wrote that Russert's rules for success were to 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.”

He was an ambitious man who also reveled in other people's success. He was a political strategist who did not see journalism as a stepping stone or a revolving door but as a worthy, even noble, end in itself if done right and well, and he did both. And he always seemed to be having so much more fun at it than the rest of us.

He exuded enthusiasm that was infectious, as though he couldn't quite believe how far he had come and all the famous and powerful people he met on his ride. He was not a cheerleader for politicians, but he was by all accounts a faithful friend and confidant, a beer in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and in between a heart the size of a Buffalo Bills offensive lineman.

One of the reasons that Russert's death struck a chord with so many people is that he had an Everyman quality that made him seem more approachable. Think of John Madden at a chalkboard—or in this case whiteboard—explaining complicated political plays so that we can actually understand them. That was Tim Russert. He liked that analogy, telling B&C he thought diagramming politics for the average viewer was what the job was all about. So many others seem too inclined to impress their peers rather than the consumers of news.

Which leads us to the question: Who is out there to succeed him, not just at NBC but on a larger scale? It is increasingly tough in this red vs. blue world to find someone with the political instincts and insights of Russert, combined with his love of journalism for its own sake. Few could put the words “noble” and “journalism” together and make you believe it. Russert could.

Gov. Mario Cuomo, Russert's former boss, pointed out that the word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek for the divine appreciation for the gift of life. We'd like to think that the rainbow that rose over the top of the Washington Monument and filled the East window of the Kennedy Center terrace where Russert's post-wake reception was being held was a divine appreciation of the gift of Tim Russert's passion for journalism and life.