And it's my sad duty to report this afternoon that my friend and college, Tim Russert, the moderator of "MEET THE PRESS" and NBC's Washington Bureau Chief, collapsed and died early this afternoon while at work in the NBC news bureau in Washington.
Tim had just returned from a family trip to Italy with his wife, Marine Orth (ph), the writer, and his son, Luke. They were celebrating Luke's graduation from Boston College just this spring.
Tim, of course, has been the host of "MEET THE PRESS" longer than any other person in that long-running television broadcast. He has been a very familiar face on this network and throughout the world of political journalism as one of the premier political analysts and journalists of his time.
Tim, 58-years-old, grew up in Buffalo and he wrote a No. 1 best selling "New York Times" book called, "Big Russ and Me," about his childhood and especially about his relationship with his father, big Russ. That was followed by another No. 1 "New York Times" best seller called, "The Wisdom of our Fathers." That book was inspired by the many letters that he received from other children talking about their relationship with their fathers.
This was one of the most important years in Tim's life for so many reasons. He loved this political campaign. He worked to the point of exhaustion so many weeks, not just on "MEET THE PRESS," but on MSNBC, and with our colleague, Brian Williams, of course, during the debates and on "Special Coverage" on NBC Nightly News.
Tim was a true child of Buffalo and the blue collar roots in which he was raised. For all of his success, he was always in touch with the ethos of that community. Just last week, he was back in Buffalo moving his father from his home to another facility. His father now in his late 80s. Big Russ, it goes without saying, our heart goes out to him and all members of Tim's family.
Tim loved his family, his faith, his country, politics. He loved the Buffalo Bills, the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals.
He of course had season tickets to that team when they moved to Washington. We will have additional details throughout the evening here on NBC News and MSNBC, of course.
Brian Williams will have continuing coverage.
But to repeat, our beloved colleague, one of the premier journalists of our time, Tim Russert, died this afternoon after collapsing at work at the NBC News bureau in Washington, D.C. And I think I can invoke personal privilege to say that this news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice. He will be missed as he was loved, greatly.
I'm Tom Brokaw, NBC News in New York.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: As we welcome our family of viewers on MSNBC, first off, to explain where we are. We are at Bogram
(ph) Airfield in Afghanistan. And of course, the NBC News family going through the very painful knowledge, the painful first word of the loss of our friend and colleague, Tim Russert.
Tim was 58-years-old. We first learned word this afternoon that something was wrong. Tim collapsed in the Washington bureau, where he was bureau chief, also senior vice president of NBC News and as needs no mention, a long-time moderator of "MEET THE PRESS," the hugely successful and longest running Sunday morning public affairs show in American television.
Tim, as Tom Brokaw first mentioned, was a lot of things. First, and foremost, of course, a beloved son of Buffalo, New York. Went back frequently. It is the home of his surviving father, big Russ, "Big Russ and Me" the title of Tim's first of two best-selling books.
Again, at the age of 58, an unfathomable loss.
Tim knew Washington as well as anyone alive, having worked for Daniel Patrick Moynahan and Andrew Cuomo, among others. He was an attorney, a member of the bar in New York and a member of the bar in Washington, D.C.
Apologies are required. We are in Afghanistan in preparation for tonight's broadcast of NBC Nightly News from Bogram (ph) Airfield. And when there is a launch of one jet here, it is usually immediately followed by the launch of a second.
We, of course, have been here for much of this week reporting the U.S. military effort here in Afghanistan. We are going to require a lot of help from family members for this coverage as we go on into the evening. All of us are suffering this same great loss. For a lot of us, it's the first time we have spoken.
And with that, as we have another launch here -- to my colleague, Andrea Mitchell on the NBC News Washington bureau, a very sad place this afternoon -- Andrea.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Well, the shock waves cannot be fully expressed.
Tim was our friend, our leader, our cheerleader, our teacher, my mentor. Tim came to this bureau in 1988, 20 years ago, as the bureau chief. Even before that, he, of course, was a vice president of NBC News and was in charge of the today program and a great contributor to shaping political coverage. He was a guide to all things political.
I have always felt that Tim's involvement in "MEET THE PRESS" and, I'll never forget, his first time as an on-camera person, not just an executive on "MEET THE PRESS," But put on camera and asking questions and then becoming the host of "MEET THE PRESS" 17 years ago. I have always felt that it was his background as someone who had gone through Jesuit schools, who had had the training from the sisters whom he so fondly talked of, who had taught him to ask questions, to ask the questions that average people would want to know, and also ask the questions that would stump the political figures, because it wasn't a gotcha moment. It was that Tim had a fabulous memory and would always ask what people needed to know about their political leaders.
Tim's leadership in this bureau, Brian, you know it better than anyone, having taught us -- here is Tim on "MEET THE PRESS" just very recently.
Tim was the person who was really the historian of all things political here. He also, as a partner on debate questions, was the host and moderator of many debates, singly and together with you, Brian Williams. He had huge impact on so many political campaigns. The political campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2000, running for office, it was the Buffalo debate hosted, by hometown boy Tim Russert, that put Rick Lazio (ph) on the spot and memorably had Hillary Clinton proving herself in that debate and then going on to victory as the senator from New York.
Brian, there are so many things that we can say about Tim Russert today. But the other thing that we need to say is Tim Russert as a teacher and as a friend.
Tim has been a friend, a father figure to many, an older brother to some, who has carried this bureau through 9/11, through the attacks on the Pentagon, through all of the tragedies and the triumphs of these years here in Washington. It is Tim who has taught all of us how to be journalists and better journalists.
And as someone who has participated with him on the "Today" program as a friend and fellow political analyst in the early years when we were partners with Al Hunt (ph), his closest and dearest friend, Al Hunt of Bloomberg news, and the extended family. When I think of all of us here as journalists, and as people, we are all so much the better for being friends and students of Tim Russert. The preeminent journalist of our time in any measure who knew how to make the adjustment as we went into cable and on the Internet and expanded all of our horizons in an instantaneous way.
Brian, you in Bogram know better than anyone what we have learned from Tim Russert.
WILLIAMS: Well, Andrea, you put it so well and raised such an important point. No. 1, his reach through the industry, his reach through politics and journalism. And sadly for all the wrong reasons, over the next few days, we are about to find out just how far and deep that reach was. But also, his approach, which was so carefully honed and trained through years of education. His Jesuit education absolutely jermaine to any discussion about Tim, Irish Catholic upbringing in, as he often put it, a lunch box neighborhood, a father who held down two jobs for a large portion of his adult life, worked for the city. It helped to form who Tim Russert was.
And then his legal training, because his mind was so neatly divided like a legal pad. His arguments and his questioning were just like a courtroom lawyer.
People used to be fond to point out the jobs Tim had held in politics as if to find a crack, a crevice, anywhere where they could pin Tim Russert down. The problem with that was, his lawyerly approach to the broadcast, to anything political he ever touched, including moderating countless debates and it's tough to watch the videotape of the two of us together during this so far, endless political season. Because there was no running room there for that argument.
He was always about fairness, about the truly best intent of what is often called "capital J Journalism." That was our friend, Tim Russert. I am looking at this moment now airing on videotape as Tim was accepting the accolades of the crowd. We worked out a pretty good warm-up act as we came out in that string of debates during the Democratic primary season.
After I arrived at the network at the invitation of Tom Brokaw, Tim’s was the first face I saw. He started, for those people just joining us, at NBC News in 1984. Our friend was 58 years old, the Washington bureau chief, moderator of MEET THE PRESS. How many times have we all used that expression?
And remaining with us and a voice we have to have chime in here as part of the coverage, again, I'm halfway across the world at Baghram Airfield in Afghanistan, a man that knew Tim as well as anybody, Tom Brokaw. Tom?
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Thank you, Brian. I remember when he arrived here. He was recommended by his friend Lynn Garmit (ph), one of our news division presidents, Larry Grossman. And Tim came almost directly from Capitol Hill. When I heard he was a prospect, I made a point of getting to know him through our mutual friend Al Hunt. Went down to Washington and heard those drop-dead invitations he would do of his friend and mentor, Daniel Patrick Moynahan. And I thought, I have been in this business quite a while. I have never seen anybody brighter or more perceptive than this guy from Buffalo, New York.
And Tim, I always felt, became a great journalist because he crossed from one line into another and he knew how the system worked on the other side. He knew what the thinking was.
And I think he elevated not just everyone in this bureau but I think he elevated broadcast political coverage because of the standards that he had in terms of getting at what was essential in any campaign or any position. He knew how to dive into a bill and find where the earmarks were, for example or how it had been loaded up or compromised for that matter in an effort to get it through.
He was a diligent researcher. He had a great staff around him, obviously. They were like family to him. They would pull together mounds of material and Tim would begin to bury himself in that on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. He eschewed most of the Washington social scene because he wanted to be doing what he loved to do best, be with his family and be with MEET THE PRESS and his colleagues that were covering politics. And he was doing that to the very end.
He came back from Italy, a little bit early to do MEET THE PRESS on Sunday. Maureen and Luke remained behind. They are being flown back now to Washington. As we look at these very familiar pictures of Tim, I hope that everyone understands that cannot believe that he is gone, that we've lost his voice, that this country has lost this premier political journalist and analyst, a man who had such passion for politics in part because he believed that politics really are the DNA of this country.
They define who we are at any given time.
He grew up on the streets of Buffalo. His dad was a guy who drove a garbage truck by day and delivered papers by night for the "Buffalo Evening News." Tim got to know the political structure of the city. When Daniel Patrick Moynihan came to Buffalo in the middle of a blizzard, this very bright young man was kind of his advanced guy. The senator said to him at the end of the trip, why don't you come back to Washington with me.
And Tim got on the plane and went to Washington and his life was changed forever. I don't think you could say enough about his relationship with his family. He was unbelievable close to Luke, his son. I remember the day that he was born. And Tim never left his side, emotionally or physically, for that matter. Luke has grown up to be a fine young man, graduated from Boston College, a real sports and political junky. They text message each other all day long and, of course, Tim's wife, Maureen, and appropriately enough they met at a Democratic political convention in 1976.
Tim often described walking her home after a late night out and he had "The Daily News" under his arm and she had "The New York Times." That pretty well summed up their differences. And they had this wonderful relationship, one Italian American and the other Irish American. Both with strong feelings about politics. And it was great fun to be in their company. It was all energy at the highest possible levels.
The sad, sad news, is, of course, that Tim came back from Italy and then was lost when he returned. Luke and Maureen are still there. And understandably, they are in a state of extraordinary shock.
They also know that Tim as a man of great faith, would want them to go on. He would often talk about loss and say, weren't we lucky to have them as long as we did? I think we feel the same way about Tim.
WILLIAMS: And Tom, a la one of his most famous on-air moments that occurred with you, the famous whiteboard, Ohio, Ohio, Ohio and Florida, Florida, Florida. Tim was so aggressively unfancy. That quality permeated all parts of his life. Never was dressed in anything more fancy than the same blue blazer with gold buttons, the way he had worn to school for so many years.
And he believed in transparency. He believed in letting people see how we do this. There is no real magic to it, it turns out. It is a collection of humans with foibles and frailties and faults doing the best they can. In his case, doing the best they could covering politics.
That was the genesis of the white board. It was better than any computer generated graphics on that election night. It was the genesis of Tim's belief that the viewers should know what we are up to.
And if Tim were here, he would warn our viewers who are tuning in and hearing this news that even this coverage is being compiled by family members of a very sad family still coming to grips with this news today.
And as we look back, it's those election night moments where it was you and Tim on the air, two guys, hearing the news at no faster speed than the viewers were, really and passing it along as soon as they knew it.
But Tom, you mentioned his reflexive knowledge of politics and the minutia, the markup of a bill, what was buried in there. What were the ornaments on the Christmas tree that a member of Congress added to it?
That was his homework. The reason Tim had less than active social life in Washington on weekends, he was home preparing for the Sunday night broadcast and people knew not to invite this guy out on Saturday nights.
BROKAW: That's absolutely true, Brian. We talked three or four times a day. We were joined at the hip in so many ways in terms of our great passion for politics and this business. We didn't always see eye to eye on things but we could always work it out.
And of in a way, Luke. I was known as Uncle Tom, as Mike Barnicle was.
And we have to say something about Mike who is at the hospital as well.
Three of us the same generation. I'm the old guy in the group. Mike's in the middle. And Tim, we're like three brothers. I have Irish roots adds well on my mothers side. And of course it goes without saying about Barnicle and Russert.
And we would always look at each other and say, how did this happen?
Three working class guys and how did we get so lucky? Married well, doing what we love, and getting a chance to do it almost every day of our lives.
And we had a lot of laughs along the way as well. Tim was a great sports fan, obviously, of the Buffalo Bills. That caused him a lot of pain. He loved to tell the story in speeches about at one point on MEET THE PRESS where he said if he said if there's a God in Heaven, the Bills will beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl that was being played in the Rose Bowl this year.
And I called him up and I said, Tim, I think you've gone too far invoking God on MEET THE PRESS on behalf of the Bills. He said, I feel that strongly about it. And of course the Bills got clocked by the Cowboys in Pasadena in the Rose Bowl.
Tim, I watched him walk out of the stadium, his shoulders hunched over, dejected with Luke at his side. We got to the NBC party and I said, this proves something. And Tim said, what’s that? It proves that God is a Baptist, it turns out. He loved that story and told it in much of the speeches that he used around the country.
WILLIAMS: And one story I wouldn't mind telling for the first time in this, it's not terribly widely known. In the shadow of the U.S. Capitol as you come down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House is the new and glorious Newseum. The museum of media, the written word and the moving image and audio or radio news as well.
On the facade of this magnificent five, six-story high building are etched the words of the First Amendment. That was Tim's idea. And it will go on, as, perhaps, his most lasting physical monument in Washington. Tim's been on the board of the organization, and he thought what better way to remind the public constantly what our job boils down to after all.
Tim's been on the board of the organization, and he thought what better way to remind the public constantly what our job boils down to after all.
Tom, I was even thinking in the news segment as we were knowing this awful news, standing by to go on the air as MSNBC was covering the rest of the news of this day, I saw the baseball stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, center and leftfield under water. And I thought of Michael Garter in, the former NBC News president. On an average day, Tim would have been on the phone with Michael, who was among the founders in controlling interests in that minor league baseball team, of course, commiserating about the damage to the stadium, just as Tim was such a huge emotional help to Michael when he lost a family member.
So, all of this starts coming back.
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: It does, indeed. He had such great passions about his friends and his family. He, in Washington, D.C., knew virtually everyone, and he had a lot of pals up here as well, and I'm hoping that they're not all getting the news from television, because we did have to get on the air fairly swiftly this afternoon.
Tim would have wanted it no other way. And we did this in cooperation with Maureen and Luke, who are back in Italy, after Tim's Buffalo family, his sisters and his fathers, had been notified as well.
But he loved nothing more than to get together his pals either on the phone or in person, and he had a lot of them from his experience in New York State politics and working for Senator Moynihan. And I was always deeply touched by the care that he gave to young people.
I would send a few to him from time to time, saying, I think this young man or this young woman shares our same passions about politics and public policy. Maybe we can find a little room in the Washington bureau for them as an intern. And Tim would always find room for them and kind of mentor them, and then make sure that they moved on in the right direction.
You know, the thing about Tim and journalism, and politics, especially, he had great clarity of vision. He was like a quarterback who could see the whole field. He knew where the strengths and weaknesses of candidates were, and what was going to happen down field after one particular primary or another.
He was a tough interrogator. There's no question about that. But he kept his very strong personal opinions to himself. He would go after both sides pretty aggressively.
And then, of course, there was that moment when he found himself in some unwelcomed limelight when he became a principal witness in the Scooter Libby case, because that conversation between Scooter Libby and Tim Russert is part of what triggered the special investigation of Mr.
Fitzgerald. And Tim found himself in what he said were two of the most uncomfortable days of his life.
There he was with a broken foot hobbling into the courthouse. And when he was faulted for stalling or asking the lawyer for Mr. Libby to repeat questions, Tim said, I knew what he was up to. He was trying to bum rush me. And so I was asking him to repeat the questions so I could get in my own mind exactly what it was that I wanted to say. So I was playing his game back against him.
The legal mind at work.
WILLIAMS: Tom, what's incredible as we run through this sad news, to think that journalism was not his original chosen career, that after college and then law school, and then seeking politics in Washington, this guy became what he did in the business of journalism, so deathly serious about it, and old school, which is what all of us old schoolers admired about him. He was known to label those who engaged in too much commentary and too much noise in the public square, quite frankly, pamphleteers.
We're looking at videotape. There he is with Melanie Bloom, our beloved friend and widow of our beloved friend, David Bloom, who of course died while covering the Iraq war. Tim of such help and comfort during that awful crisis in our NBC family.
But it was before that gathering, the correspondents dinner in Washington, D.C., that Tim warned the profession about some of the trends and some of the distractions, quite frankly, that were going to, perhaps, keep us from keeping our eyes on the ball. It was journalism and it was fairness that Tim Russert was worried about. I think it all goes back to his roots, who he was educationally and as a lawyer -- Tom.
BROKAW: That's true. You know, he lead a good life. Tim would want us to be honest about this as well.
He was paid a very, very handsome salary, indeed. He had a big house in Washington. He bought an even bigger house when Luke left home because he wanted to have more room for Luke and his buddies when they came back home.
Got the big television set, got the Barker lounger like his dad had up in Buffalo. And he wanted to have more room.
He also had a house on the Atlantic Seaboard. I'm not going to say exactly where, where he loved to go in the summertime.
He was not a great athlete by any means. We plained softball together and basketball. And his athletic development, I always used to tease him, stopped in the eighth grade at Canisius Junior High School.
But he loved sports. And he loved, across the political spectrum, people who were involved in the great game of American politics. He was on the phone to James Carville a lot, and he would be on the phone to somebody in the White House a lot.
And he worked it across the spectrum. He had friends across the political plain.
BOB HERBERT: had a passion for life. And boy, did he love Bruce Springsteen. One of the proudest moments of his life, for all of his achievements, is that when he was a student at John Carroll College in Cleveland, there was this young guy out in New Jersey, he was just beginning to make his bones as a rock 'n' roller, and Tim managed to book him for a concert on his college campus.
And Tim's great regret, which sadly will not be fulfilled, is that he never got Bruce Springsteen to appear on "MEET THE PRESS." But they were in touch a lot over the years.
And I would always tease Tim about "MEET THE PRESS" was kind of high church for political coverage until the NBA All Star Game came along.
And then he'd find room somehow to get a couple of the NBA all stars on.
Or at the all star break in baseball he would do the same thing.
He came to be a really good friend of his boyhood idol, Yogi Berra. The Yankees of the 1950s were Tim's team. And this will be very sad news to Yogi as well, because Tim and Yogi did a lot of things together.
And I think Tim is on the foundation board at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Baseball was a grease passion of his.
WILLIAMS: As was talking about it and talking about so many subjects in life.
We'll be watching tapes for so in years from an aspect of Tim's television life that we should remember as well, "THE TIM RUSSERT SHOW"
on CNBC, which has been a staple of weekend cable programming for years.
When Tim was able to take a single guest, often you, sometimes me, often his favorite authors, athletes, scholars, thinkers, politicians and just talk, and air it out over a simple wooden table, which he always thought was the perfectly best solution for things like this and weighty subjects, and Tim Russert would guide the roundtable discussion with one or more guests, as he did, of course, every Sunday morning for so many year on what was, hands down, the leading Sunday morning public affairs show.
For those just joining us, I should explain in the background, American and coalition war planes are landing and taking off. We're joining you here with Tom Brokaw in New York, from Bagram airfield in Afghanistan.
We are here, we've been here for several days, preparing to do tonight's broadcast of "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS," when word arrived from the Washington bureau that our friend and colleague, Tim Russert, had collapsed in the course of doing his work in one of the offices in the downstairs portion of the very familiar structure NBC News has on Nebraska Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Caused an obvious worried frenzy in the Washington bureau, and then as we dreaded, the worst possible news over the next few minutes, seemingly in horrible slow motion, it came. Culminating with the word that we had lost our friend.
I want to bring in another friend and colleague, David Gregory, who have been listening to all of this on the air.
David, your thoughts?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Well, I guess first to a little bit of business. And that is that, as you and Tom have been talking about, Brian, the world is going to react to this, particularly the world of politic, namely which was Tim Russert's world here in Washington. The president, who is in Paris tonight, has reacted through his spokeswoman, Dana Perino. And I will just read the statement.
"President and Mrs. Bush were informed that Tim had been stricken about
3:25 this afternoon" -- again, the president in Paris tonight as part of his farewell tour to Europe -- "and of his death about 10 minutes later.
The President and Mrs. Bush will issue a written statement shortly."
This from Dana Perino.
"The President and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened to learn the shocking news of the death of Tim Russert. They knew him many year and were very fond of him, and appreciated what he had achieved in his career. They express their sympathy to the entire NBC News family and to Tim's friends and family." They asked about his family and especially father.
Everyone knew of Tim's relationship with his father, now just a couple of days before Father's Day. This is all the more poignant.
I can tell you just as somebody who covered the White House, like you, Brian, the level of interest Tim would have, anything that was significant that was happening inside the White House I'd get that call down at the White House booth saying it was Tim and wanted to talk about what I heard, what I knew, what he knew. We'd exchange information. He was just on top of everything.
But I have to say more personally that as much as we will pay tribute to Tim, the journalist, and to all of his establishments, my initial thoughts are about his love for his family and the love for Maureen and his son, Luke. He could be in the middle of anything at work. If you wanted to talk about politics, fine, if you wanted to talk about kids, your own or his, everything stopped. And his eyes would light up, he would go into great detail.
There was nothing that he loved more than providing for his boy to a lot of access to a lot of people and a lot of great things in this country.
And he loved to expose his boy to sports he loved. But not just to his boy, but to my boy and others who had come to Nationals Park here in DC and see him at games, he would be Uncle Tim and get the kids baseballs from the catchers. He loved kids and loved his own and anybody else's.
So I think that's a big part of our sense of loss here, is knowing the pain his family's going through and how much love, you know, you just think about whatever thoughts may have gone through his mind, God bless him, at the end, that he thought about his family principally as his first love.
WILLIAMS: And, David, while you were talking, the last piece of videotape we're watching is an employee satellite meeting with the chairman of General Electric, our parent company, Jeff Immelt. Which Tim would always call, quote, taking one for the team. But he always did it, as we're often asked as you’re asked, as I’m asked, because of his work ethic that never changed. And so many stories are going to be told over these next few days for the first time.
You mentioned dropping everything for family. Now it can be told, often we were on the air either for NIGHTLY NEWS or a special report, election night, everything but debates. In an almost audible murmur, Tim would be just off the camera talking a call to Luke. Usually about a sporting event or whatever Luke had planned in his life.
And David, Andrea Mitchell is sitting a few weeks from you in our Washington newsroom, listening, who I know has a lot to add to this.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, watching Luke grow up through Tim's eyes, watching the pride and the baby pictures expand to the pictures of a young man, a graduate of Boston College, the pride he felt in Luke that he felt in anything that Luke did, I recall coming in and in the parking lot Tim was sitting in his car, I asked him if he was OK. He was sitting in that pickup truck listening to Luke on XM Radio and the program he broadcasts. The sports program he does with James Carville.
This relationship with his son is the central part of his life. That and Maureen and, of course, Big Russ. Tim, in this bureau, when people were in trouble, when anyone had a problem, medical or any other kind of problem, the first person you would go to, not an easily explainable fact that the bureau chief was such a father figure and such a help to anybody who was in trouble with any part of the extended family.
Any of us who have had illnesses or problems with our own parents have always gone to Tim first. He is the most responsive person in any emergency. I know that this is public knowledge, they have been so public about what they have done for their son, Jeffrey. Al Hunt and Judy Woodruff. Tom is the godfather to Tim Hunt and the second son of Al and Judy, and, of course, their eldest, Jeffrey, had a serious disability and through that entire process where the Hunt-Woodruff family was going through this extraordinary trouble, Tim has been with them at every step of the way, and I know that – I talked to Judy Woodruff and know how the family feels. These families are so close as are, of course, the Brokaws and Mike Barnicle and the others people in his orbit.
I know when Daniel Patrick Moynihan was ill, then we sadly lost him, the way that Tim Russert stood with Liz Moynihan, his widow, and his embrace was the strongest embrace of anyone outside of the immediate family. We talked about his Jesuit education. He talks often about that. What he learned in law school and in high school, also what he learned from the nuns as an elementary student and the way the nuns brought him up and taught him the discipline.
And he was amazingly disciplined and also the love and the way he reached out to people in every measure. I know that Brian, that you and Tom and David and all of us have traveled with Tim. Whether traveling back from New Hampshire to Iowa, the middle of the night flight from Iowa to New Hampshire, landing at 4:00 in the morning and the way -- even as exhausted as he was, as everyone was, when he is seen in an airport there, is no stopping people from surrounding Tim Russert. So accessible. And he loves talking to people.
Just the other day on the air he was reflecting on something that he had heard from a security guard at one of the debates. Something he learned just from talking to people. Because Tim was always the person so easily approached by anyone in any walk of life, and he collected information, was constantly gathering information. I remember the first debate that I was a moderator on, I was on the panel. The Dukakis/Bush debate. The first of those two debates.
And there was a debate whether to have a debate. This was going to be the final debate of the ‘88 campaign. Tim, as we were at the last minute flying across country and collecting information and trying to do data, he was going over the questions he might ask if he were on that panel and going through possible choices with me. He was always teaching each of us to be as rigorous as he was in looking at all of the facts, examining everything and then being as balanced and fair and down the middle as anyone could possibly be.
Anyone who have substituted to us on the two days a year, maximum two days a year when he would take off from MEET THE PRESS, would be overwhelmed with the obligation of living up as much as anyone could to the Russert standard of going through anything that any political figure ever said and comparing and contrasting and trying to find the wiggle room.
And as anyone who's ever been on the program knows, whether it was Bob Dole, who was on more than any other guest or any of the other current or former senators or political candidates, they would have to brace themselves for the MEET THE PRESS primary.
That was before the money primary, before Iowa, before New Hampshire, there was the MEET THE PRESS primary. Who could stand up to the rigor of sitting down for an hour with Tim Russert. Some could, some couldn't. Some were afraid to even try. It became the gold standard of political journalism, of any kind of broadcast journalism was going man to man or woman to man with Tim Russert. And he did it with humor and grace and passion for politics and Brian and Tom and David, all of us are the better for knowing him and the fact that any of us can talk and broadcast today is a tribute to what he has taught us about being able to get through any emergency as we did through other emergencies and other losses in public life because our hearts are breaking. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Absolutely. Andrea, we have lost Tom Brokaw to go deal with this and make some phone calls. It strikes me the three of us on the air, now, you, me, and David, have all, A, been guests on MEET THE PRESS in various roles, B, guest hosted for Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS when he would take his one, two, Sundays off a year. That was on a big down-time year for Tim.
He was as addicted to his work as anyone I know. Because it really was his life's love. Tom made the point, Tim would want us to say he won the lottery in life. He struck it as big as any kid from Buffalo with big dreams ever could. And that passion for the common folk because he came from those very roots never left him.
He knew about what's been, of course, labeled the wisdom of the crowd.
The wisdom of the every day people who make up the United States. It's not a special tool. It probably should be common equipment, standard equipment for everybody in the business following and engaging politics.
It often isn't. Just as the expression, the term of art in Washington politics back in the Roosevelt years and thereafter was, "have you run it by Sidney?", to reflect a powerful political power broker within this network. If it had to do with politics, the question that always followed was, "have you run it by Tim?".
We've been watching some of the videotape. Think of the string of successive presidents Tim has known and interviewed. Think of his American exclusive interview with Pope John Paul II, one of, at the time, the most dramatic moments in television interview history when, of course, the industry was at a very different stage than it is now.
We should mention the ubiquitous cable channels, the Internet, and the fact that, you know, Tim unabashedly openly liked his television journalism a certain way, and said so at every opportunity he was given.
David Gregory came up as did so many folks in the Washington bureau under Tim Russert as bureau chief, became White House correspondent, went onto, as I said, sit in that chair, fill in for Tim Russert.
David, talk about how cross culturally and in terms of political parties especially, these deep roots in the Republican Party, these deep roots in the Democratic Party, a rolodex as thick and long-lasting as any in Washington, and really nothing got past him.
GREGORY: Well, it was extraordinary just how connected he was all across this town, across the parties with a reputation that was sterling for toughness, for fairness, and for having a platform on his program, as you've said many times already here that was considered the place to appear if you were a politician in this town, in this country.
And for anyone who was seeking the presidency, that was a required hour of television, a grilling that you had to go through whether you wanted to or not to kind of prove your mettle against Tim Russert.
And as the primaries unfolded in this incredible election year, he had everybody on and put a great deal of pressure on everybody to come on.
And I'm just -- I mean, I tell you, so many of us are -- all of us in shock, here, as we're both talking about Tim and reflecting on Tim.
And I've gotten on my BlackBerry statements or well wishes from executives at the Nationals baseball team. And now, as I alluded to just a couple of minutes ago, a statement from the president, who is traveling in Europe. He's in Paris. And I'll read the statement by the president.
"Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert.
Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him. As the longest-running -- serving host of the longest-running program on the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades.
"Tim was a tough and hard-working newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it. Most important, Tim was a proud son and father, and Laura and I offer our deepest sympathies to his wife, Maureen, his son, Luke, and the entire Russert family. We will all keep them in our prayers."
And, Brian, Tim, you know, went to his share of state dinners at the White House over the years, but I think what he enjoyed most was when he brought Luke down to the White House to meet the president, to spend time in the Oval Office and all presidents would, you know, be so gracious with Tim and with Luke and show them around.
But there were some events that President Bush would gather these hall-of-fame baseball players and Tim would regale me with the stories of being part of that gathering and getting the interviews and being with all of these great players and allowing Luke to have that access.
That just gave him so much pleasure.
And I would swap stories with him about wanting to do these kinds of things for my boy -- for my oldest boy and take him to ball games out of town and all of this. And I would kind of get Tim's permission, what do I tell my wife, you know, who may be against this? And he would say, oh, I've been doing this with Luke since he was 6 years old. He just had so much joy about all of that.
And just one other personal indulgence, and I think Andrea would share this as well, and other people in this bureau. You know, he called me within a couple of hours of my first son being born and just spent time on the phone for 20 minutes reliving the birth of his own son, and you know, took time to make all of the kids pillows with their name and the date of their birth on it.
That was Tim's signature. Tim has a lot of signatures in his public life, in his national life. Not everybody may know that that's his favorite gift of choice if you have a child. So a lot of memories today
WILLIAMS: Well, the other night in New York, Tim found the one technician who had not heard his Bruce Springsteen story from college, and told it in front of me for easily the fourth time, knowing exactly what he was doing, knowing that I split my upbringing between Upstate New York and New Jersey.
Andrea, that was the kind of Irish-Catholic storyteller, and to have worked for Daniel Patrick Moynihan, king of them all, this was our Tim Russert, who most recently was forced to talk about this coverage of Ted Kennedy's diagnosis, which affected Tim deeply. Ted was one of his huge network of friends in Washington.
MITCHELL: Well, Tim is very, very close to the Kennedy family. Has always been. As you know, Maria Shriver worked here and was particularly close to Tim, is close to Tim. And the Shriver boys and best buddies and their charities, Tim has been enormously helpful too.
So that was a big shock to the system. And he has been close to the Kennedys, to Ethel, to everyone in the Kennedy family for a very long time as you can imagine.
Also having worked for Mario Cuomo in New York and being part of the New York political network when he -- back years and decades ago when he was in that political nexus.
I'm thinking, myself, about my marriage and Tim being at my wedding and how important it was to me as Tim had watched that part of my life develop and had been so supportive of everything. And the fact that my husband was on "MEET THE PRESS" and Tim and I -- Tim had him and I on together within the last year and we did a moment together on "MEET THE PRESS," and how treasured a moment that is to me now.
There are so many things that we think about in our personal lives and our professional lives, every debate, every election night, all the coverage. I recall being assigned -- during the transition in 1988, Brian, I was assigned to cover the transition, to cover what I thought would be an assignment to cover the White House.
And I was sent up to Kennebunkport to cover the incoming president.
And during Thanksgiving weekend when I was there and doing my assignment, I found out rather abruptly, found out quite by accident that instead I was being sent to Capitol Hill, and that somebody else was going to be covering the White House.
And I had been at the White House for eight years. To say that it was a disappointment is fairly obvious. I called Tim and we talked about it, and he -- and our mutual friend, Al Hunt, said that I had died and gone to heaven because for a political reporter there was no better place to be than to be covering the Senate of the United States.
And of course I discovered it was exactly true. And I cannot begin to tell you for four years in the Senate, every morning began with Tim and me discussing what the story ideas were. Where was the budget action?
Was it in the White House? Was it on Capitol Hill? Who's doing what?
What would be going on in the negotiations? Where would Jim Baker be?
What would Dick Darman -- who also sadly passed away way too young, all of the major players on the Hill.
Tim was so plugged in. And I would be calling him and I would say, you know, I know this, what do you want to do? And he would pass it to the White House correspondent and then pass information back to me. We had such a team here. We were clicking on cylinders.
And every night, "NIGHTLY NEWS" was cutting edge. And at the end of a couple of months when we had scandals, the speaker of house resigning, being forced out, the savings and loan, Keating Five, one story after another he called me and he said, was I right, Mitch? He calls me Mitch. There are only two people in the world who call me Mitch, one is Tim Russert, the other is my dad.
And he just started calling me Mitch, without, I think, even knowing that my dad calls me Mitch. And that's his nickname for me. Always will be. And he called me and he said, was I right? And of course he was right.
Everything that I learned outside of the White House about covering politics I learned at his feet and learned by following in his shoes on Capitol Hill and listening closely to everything he said about learning the House and the Senate and following people back to their offices and not being stuck in a little cubical listening to what was said on the air, but going to the hearings and grabbing people as they would take a break to go to the bathroom.
And that's the way I learned to do politics, learning it all from this guy who came and took over our bureau in 1988 and changed the way politics is covered forevermore, not only on television, but on the Web, in MITCHELL: every possible way that we cover politics. People are imitating the kind of research and the kind of careful study that Tim Russert does and did every day. And there's no way to describe this man who was larger than life. Who had the passions for baseball and football, for the Bills, for his family. There's no one who was filled with more love and life than Tim Russert. And it is inexplicable, it is impossible to believe that he is not with us. Brian?
WILLIAMS: Andrea Mitchell, classy to the very last word, to the point all that Andrea omitted from the story about being moved from the White House to the Senate, replaced by a new White House correspondent, was that the white house correspondent hired to that slot, who meant no offense to Ms. Mitchell, the occupant of the job, was yours truly. I swear to this day, it wasn't my fault. I was following orders.
MITCHELL: Actually, Brian, it was John Cochran.
WILLIAMS: Oh. So that’s two hops ago.
MITCHELL: I'm talking about the first time. Right.
WILLIAMS: So Tim guided both transitions. For people just joining us, and I suppose as the hour reaches 5:30 on the East Coast. A lot of people are joining us. I happen to be with you from Baghram airfield, 5:30, rather East Coast Time. I happen to be you from Baghram Airfield in Afghanistan, where most of our broadcast was going be devoted to this U.S. military operation here. Instead, sadly, our subject has been changed on us for reasons we would all give anything not to be true.
When word arrived this afternoon that our friend and colleague and mentor to so many people at NBC News, really the one person that people in politics and journalism, more often than not, in Washington, New York, and elsewhere, have in common, Tim Russert collapsed at our NBC News Washington bureau, bureau chief since 1984 and died this afternoon at the age of 58.
It is so incredibly painful to admit, that among the survivors, his dad, Big Russ, his wife, Maureen, his son, Luke Russert and son, what you're witnessing here are really the first round of conversations and reminiscences of people who, as his friend just are talking about what they remember about Tim Russert. What I'm going to do is go prepare for tonight's NBC NIGHTLY NEWS and my friend, Keith Olbermann is going to help move our coverage along.
Gene Robinson has joined us from the "Washington Post" a whole bunch of friends are going to come forward and want to be heard about our mutual friend, Tim Russert, and first, David Gregory has heard from yet, another of the presidential candidates as all of official Washington will be reacting to this awfully sad news. David?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Brian. I'm scrolling through my Blackberry here as reactions are coming in from all over Washington. And from the campaign trail as well. We've heard from John McCain and this from candidate Obama, Senator Obama. We'll see this on camera, I believe in a few moments as well. Quote, "We all, I think, have heard the news about Tim Russert. I've known Tim Russert since the first spoke at the convention. I came to consider not only a journalist, but a friend. There wasn't a better interviewer in television, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics and he was also one of the finest men I knew. Somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family. I am grief stricken with the loss, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And I hope his family life, and I hope even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard he set in his professional life and with his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives."
That, the comments from Senator Obama. Keith Olbermann, back to you now.
OLBERMANN: Thank you. Senator McCain issued his own statement about Tim’s passing. "I am very saddened by Tim Russert's sudden death.
Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with the tragic loss and remember the legacy of a loving husband, father, and the preeminent journalist of his generation. He was truly a great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills," the senator noted, "and everything about politics in America. He was just a terrific guy. I was proud to call him a friend.
In the coming days, we will pay tribute to a life whose contributions to us all will long endure."
Senator McCain with a very moving statement about the passing of Tim Russert. Andrea Mitchell is still with us. One thing I heard in everything that everyone said in the last hour since the sad news came to us, Andrea, and the heartbreak spread through your offices and mine here, it was expressed by everybody, but nobody talked about it. I don't know in my 30 years from broadcasting if I ever met anybody who enjoyed what he did from the beginning to the end, every aspect of it, enjoyed it more than Tim Russert and more importantly showed that as he did. Would you agree?
MITCHELL: He loved politics. Loved people. Loved sports. Above all else, loved Luke and Maureen and Big Russ. I think loved a lot of us, you know. The people who worked for him. You know, came to me a couple of years ago and said, I've got this great, young woman working in my office. I need to find a place for her. Will you give her a tryout as my researcher? She is an extraordinary associate producer. She's one of the legion of young people who have come through the Tim Russert training. We have researchers and producers on MEET THE PRESS who are simply put, the best in the business. People try to pick them off all the time f you want to use a sports analogy. There's no way they would become – that they would go on any kind of trade to anybody else because they are so devoted to Tim. They know they are working for the best, the smartest, the most enthusiastic, the most passionate.
The man who deeply loves politics more than anyone else. So nobody ever leaves his staff. There's no turnover on MEET THE PRESS, except when some can pull someone away to do political producing for the rest of us, for the rest of the bureau. They are so, so good at what they do. They are going to be -- they are in mourning beyond measure. Because this was a team that lived together, traveled the together, eat, breathe politics together.
You know, Keith a lot of us, Tom and Brian, you have been a lot together. We've been through assassinations and attacks on our country.
And anthrax and personal loss and illnesses and all kinds of crises.
And there was always one reliable person in our lives. People change at the network, and people change in the front office, but there's always been Tim Russert, and that's one of the reasons there are a lot of young people here today. Some of us are tough and have been through a lot, but there are a lot of young people in this newsroom who need a big embrace, because they -- from the youngest to the oldest, the people in this newsroom have been part of Tim Russert's extended, expanded family.
I can think, also, of so many times when he would sneak out to baseball games, whether it was with Luke or whether it was the Orioles and until the Nationals finally came here. There were those days when Tim would play hooky. And he would be racing out of here baseball games most often, anything involving Luke and anything involving Boston College, so, Keith, this is a hard day, but you're absolutely right. The passion and love that this man had for everything in life, politics, perhaps, above all, except for his family was extraordinary.
OLBERMANN: Youth and inexperience or experience and veteran, it makes no difference now. There is a piece of all of us gone today in the loss of Tim, Andrea.
Let's turn to Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" who is often with us on MSNBC and on election nights. I don't know -- it seems like an extraordinary thing to be talking about, Tim Russert dying and leaving us. The best part, for me, on election night whether I was at home or involved in -- lucky enough to be involved in it, was those segments when Tim Russert was on. It was the centerpiece of all that we did here.
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Well, he was such a big and constant and upbeat and enthusiastic, passionate presence, not only here at the NBC bureau where I'm speaking to you from, but around the city and around the country. That it's virtually impossible to get your mind around the idea he's suddenly been taken from us. It really is almost incomprehensible. He was that big, and that well-respected, Keith.
Here in Washington, can be a very cynical, jealous town of too many ambitious people, in too small a place. Tim was not lacking for ambition. INEMAN: But I dare say he had virtually no enemies in this city, because he always defeated cynicism and skepticism with hard work, smile, and preparation.
Andrea talked about how he loved reporting and he loved journalism.
Well, the interesting thing is he came to it as a second career, really.
He trained to be a lawyer. He would have been a fabulous one. He used his legal skills on "Meet the Press" every week. He was a press secretary to some of the most interesting and larger than life characters American politics has produced, people like Daniel Patrick Moynihan, close to Mario Cuomo and so forth.
And, yet when he got into journalism, he went in with his entire mind and soul. I never saw anybody who was more happy to be fed a morsel of news, of digging reporting than Tim Russert.
But family was above all, of course, and the thing I remember most, that first came to my mind, Keith, was being with Tim down in Florida.
I forget where. It was a few months ago. There was a big event about to happen. He and I found ourselves in a restaurant together. We sat down, had a quick bite. He kept excusing himself from the table to go stand up away from other people, so he could talk to his father, Russ.
What he was essentially doing was, by long range, by cell phone, managing his aging father's life back in Buffalo. He came back to the table and he said to me, you know, Howard, what I've got to do up there is I've got seven or eight people who drop in on my dad every day in our old home in Buffalo. My dad doesn't know that I've arranged all this.
He thinks these people are just dropping by to see him, bringing him food and keeping him company. But I have to run this whole thing from there.
I never saw a greater love. People have talked about his love for his son. I've never seen a greater love from son to father that he was expressing by taking care of his dad, even by long distance. It really was remarkable. He was a remarkable guy.
OLBERMANN: He was good enough to tell me that story as well. John Harwood of cNBC and the "New York Times" is also within earshot. John, our condolences go to you, particularly, because you were on a show that
-- Tim's weekend show for MSNBC that he taped this morning, correct?
JOHN HARWOOD, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Keith, we taped the show this morning at NBC studios. It was my colleague, Jerry Sibe (ph), and I, who were on to promote a book that we've done. As we walked out of the studio, Jerry said, you know, I don't think Tim felt very well. Tim had described coming back from Rome last night. I didn't think anything of it. I can't tell you what a shock it was a few hours later to hear this news.
I want to echo the thinks that Howard has just said. Tim was such a remarkable person, both personally and professionally. The way that he punctured the pretense of politicians and other people -- he told us a story while we were taping a show, today, about when he was on Pat Moynihan's staff in the Senate. He was describing one of his colleagues, who was sort of an imperious intellectual, who was kind of beating up a younger staff member who supposedly didn't understand the nuances of policy that the senior guy thought were very important.
Tim turned to the guy at one point in the meeting and said, can you name the four members of the Beatles, not even last names, just first names. He just brought the guy down like that because the guy didn't know the answer. He did the same thing to politicians, not in a disrespectful way, not in a way that was filled with cheap shots, but because of his preparation and persistence and toughness. There's no higher service that any of us in this business can do than to expose the contradictions, the gap, the double talk in politicians, and make it easier for voters to make a decision for our democracy to work.
Nobody's going to fill that gap.
OLBERMANN: It's such a great point, John. I was thinking about this.
We don't really perceive back to the day in 1991 when Tim took over "Meet the Press." It was one of television's oldest shows, one of the oldest, continuous news related programming shows in television by that point and a franchise that wasn't going anywhere. But circumstances were changing in television and in media and in politics. And shows like "Meet the Press" and the equivalents on CBS and ABC were, to some degree, waning.
Tim Russert reinvigorated not merely "Meet the Press," where it is the central point -- it is the pre-game show for the entire week of politics in America, of news in America. But he reinvigorated the entire genre.
Wondering from your unique perspective of being half in television, half outside it, still, if there was something in particular that made that possible.
HARWOOD: I think it is some of what Howard was talk about. He had legal training. He had a very sharp mind. He was somebody who could go, sort of, high and low, who had a very deep understanding of policy and the important issues of our politics, but never forgot people on the ground. He always had his feet on the ground. The constant references to the Buffalo Bills, that just wasn't, you know, a put on. That was real about Tim.
And -- well, I don't know what to say beyond that, Keith. It was -- the contribution that he made to our business was pretty profound.
There were some politicians who were scared to go on his show. But not because they thought they were going to get a cheap shot, but because they thought they were going to be exposed for shortcomings in their preparation or their programs. You know, if you could pass the Tim Russert test, you could do something in this business.
OLBERMANN: There was nothing resembling the preparation of Tim Russert in any field, whether it was politics, news, anything connected to television, I would think.
Let me pause, now, in case you're joining us for the first time and not have heard the details of what happened today, on what is truly a heartbreaking day I think for the entirety of the news business, particularly here at NBC and MSNBC. Tim Russert, our Washington bureau chief, the moderator of "Meet the Press," for all of us on the air and off, our leader, collapsed and passed away this afternoon in the Washington bureau, having just returned to work after a vacation with his family to Italy. He died this afternoon. Tim Russert was 58 years old.
Howard Fineman, the question of this ability to turn almost any fact that he came across into something he could use later, I was just thinking about this. It didn't happen more than 20 feet from where I'm sitting right now. The best part of getting to work with him was when we'd be off the air after one of these extraordinary primary nights in the last five months, and five hours had elapsed, six hours had elapsed, seven hours had elapsed. You go out in the hallway, and Tim would have already started his own private post-game show for the rest of us.
That conversation furthered what he had discussed, what had happened, what was going to happen next in politics, small details, big details, would go on for 10 or 20 minutes. It was as informative, often, as anything that went on on the air. He was ceaselessly fascinated by this subject. And made you ceaselessly fascinated by it as well.
FINEMAN: And he wanted to share. He wanted to share and he wanted to know what you thought. A great listener. You know, one of the most different things for any human being, and paradoxically, often for journalists, is to really listen. One of the keys to the success of Tim's show, in addition to his legal background and his blue collar background, was that he really, really listened.
Yes, he loved it all. He loved the journalism, because, as I say, he came to it as a kind of second marriage, if you will, professionally.
He was passionate about it, always passionate about politics. I first met Tim Russert in 1984 when he was a young, young guy spin doctoring for the Democrats in New York during the New York primary that year. We had a press room set up on the top floor of the old Plaza Hotel, of all places, and I watched the entire press corps, which at that time was a bunch of grizzled old guys of the pre-Baby Boom generation, absolutely awe struck and listening to every word this young Tim Russert from Buffalo had to say.
Tim completely understood the facts, the spin, the egos in the room, the deadlines. He knew everything about it from beginning to end. It's as though he was born with this sense, but then he developed it in all degrees.
I want to say, again, as an observer in Washington, he really was a rare, rare person, and in that sense a treasured person who was powerful, who was important, who was often bigger than life. I'm telling you that time and time again, he defeated cynicism and jealousy and back stabbing with sheer hard work, honestness, love of his family, love of his hometown. As John Harwood was saying, that was all real.
I happen to be from Pittsburgh. I wrote a piece a few months ago for the magazine about Pittsburgh during the Pennsylvania primary. Out of the blue I get a call from Russert. Great piece. We don't talk every day. Great piece. I care so much about these cities. We've got to do everything we can to bring these cities back. Totally out of the blue, totally heartfelt. That was Tim Russert.
OLBERMANN: My next question was exactly about that. Let me pause for a second to read you a statement from someone indelibly associated with Tim Russert because of that dry erase board in the 2000 election, the former Vice President of the United States Al Gore from Nashville, saying "the United States and the world have lost a great journalist, interviewer, author. He was an original and will be greatly missed."
Al Gore on Tim Russert.
Howard, that point about generosity. I don't know of anybody who ever stepped in front of a camera, certainly, not to ignore people who didn't, but no one here who stepped in front of a camera, touching even the outside perimeters of NBC News or MSNBC, who didn't, at some point, get some sort of encouragement, often once a week, from Tim Russert.
Exactly that nature -- right out of the blue, as if you knew you needed to hear from him.
FINEMAN: And showing his deep, real interest in all of these things. I mean, he was inside and out from Buffalo, from his Catholic background, from his Jesuit training, from his family, from his beloved wife, Maureen, his son, Luke, every inch what he said he was. That's also a rarity in Washington. It's something to be treasured and I think, among other things, it's going to -- things that are going to happen in the days ahead, there will of course be the wonderful remembrances of Tim and there will be a lot of thinking at this rather self-reflective time in journalism, anyway, Keith.
This is a time of a lot of questions about our mission as journalisms, who we are, what we do, why we do what we do, what is good or bad about what we do. Tim was all good. I mean that from the bottom of my heart. He was -- what he did was to advance the public debate in a good way. He tried his hardest. He was an honest guy, on and off the air. Listened carefully. Was paradoxically not swayed by his own position.
What he cared about -- the reason I think he came back from Italy early, even though Maureen, his wife, and his son, Luke, were still in Italy, was of course to begin to preparing for "Meet the Press." Tim preparing for "Meet the Press" was like the United States Army preparing to invade France.
Saturday night was off limits for Tim Russert. He's the kind of guy in the kind of position that could have been the social guy all around Washington on Saturdays. He shut down most times at 6:00 Saturday, went to bed at 9:00, so he could be up at 4:00 to read the wires, read the web pages, read the papers, to make sure he had the last possible news, the latest possible news for "Meet the Press." Utter, utter dedication. Utter dedication. That's how he did it with that show.
OLBERMANN: Senator Joe Lieberman with a statement now, Howard, on Tim Russert.
"He was," as the senator says, "the embodiment of journalists, integrity and clarity who shed light on how our politics and our government work." And then a great, apt phrase from Senator Lieberman, "Tim became an American institution and the explainer in chief of our political life. I have very fond memories of Tim both on and off the air. He will be truly missed by all Americans. My prayers are with his family that he loved so much."
Joe Lieberman, the Independent senator from Connecticut.
The explainer in chief -- Andrea Mitchell, I think that's the perfect phrase.
MITCHELL: Explainer in chief is a perfect phrase, Keith.
The baseball hall-of-fame -- he was a board member. Our friend and colleague, Chris Donovan, who worked for Tim for many, many years as the top research team, the crack research team on "Meet the Press." Chris Donovan has shared with us a statement from the baseball hall-of-fame.
He was a board member.
From Jean Forbes Clark (ph) on his passing, "We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Tim's sudden passing. He was integral member of our board of directors and its executive committee. He cared about the hall-of-fame and its mission so much. We'll miss Tim's critical thinking and his unsurpassed passion for the game tremendously."
Which brings to mind those interviews with Yogi Bera (ah) and Whitey Ford (ah), and the other hall-of-famers. He found any excuse to do a show. The CNBC show, which is now on MSNBC, at the ballpark. And -- bringing those guys in and having their memories, he basically had an oral history similar to what Faye Vincent (ph) has just put in print, in his book about the baseball heroes of the '50s and '60s.
And Tim and I are not so far apart in age, that we have the same heroes. And -- his being a Yankees fans, a little transformed now to the Nationals, but we really have the same roots there with the New York Yankees.
I also remember Tim talking to me when I was writing a book. He had written his book, of course, the No. 1 best seller, "Big Russ and Me,"
and he reminded me how important is was to check everything. Because, he said, our memories of our youth, of our childhood are not accurate.
And you can have a memory of something that is so clear in your mind's eye, and it just, when you check it out, and go to the archives, it didn't happen.
And so -- he taught me how to find the right way to research my own memoir because he had done it so well and so successfully and had found what the pitfalls were. And then in talking about childhood, we were talking about John F. Kennedy and how he recalled as a boy, his father piling them in the car and getting -- his earliest memory of politics is John F. Kennedy coming to Buffalo in 1960. And the Russert family finding the right overpass -- and I won't remember this correctly -- but it's in the book, you can look it up, finding the right way to see the motorcade of JFK as he campaigned in Buffalo.
So, those memories, being Irish and feeling that connection terribly important. I remember presidential trips as bureau chief, Tim would often be the designated pool leader, which would be to organize all of the television coverage for presidential trips. And so he would be along the way when we went to Moscow with Bill Clinton in 1993 and in other trips. And he would be, not just organizing the interviews with the president, but also the coverage for all the networks and also, of course, showing his vast knowledge.
The man read everything; he saw everything. There wasn't a day that I have not come into this bureau that Tim wasn't ahead of me in discovering some little fact that would better inform my work. And when I think of all the times where he has suggested a story, I'd pick up the phone and without instruction, it would just be, Mitch, try this out, make this call, here's an idea. And then he'd say, go get them. And that was always his way of cheering us on, whether it was the presidential debate, election coverage or sending me out to cover two freight trains that had collided in suburban Washington, D.C.
It was always Tim cheering us on. And some people have said, where do we all get our energy? Where do reporters go morning, noon, night, MSNBC, CNBC, cut-ins, local news -- where do we get this energy to do this?
It's leadership, and the leadership came from the top. And it comes
-- not just from the top at 30 Rock, and it certainly does from there, but the incentive in this little colony comes from Tim Russert, who has infected all of us with the joy of journalism, and the love of politics and everything we do, no matter how trivial or how major.
The other thing about Tim is teaching all of us and making sure that this filters down to the beginners who are our desk assistants and will someday be our stars to make sure everything is done so that we get the facts right and we don't go on the air until we know what we're talking about. Of course, there are slips and slides in this day and age, but not that many. And if there are, Tim is the first to call us out on it.
OLBERMANN: You took my breath away, because I was just going through the last few e-mails that I'd gotten from Tim, and one of them ended with, "go get them," which was the exhortation, it was the excelsior, the chant for all of us.
One other question, Andrea, because of your experience and years with NBC News, I'm fascinated, and was fascinated, to watch Tim Russert's absolute adaptability to every change that happened. As I suggested earlier, not to say that "Meet the Press" was any kind of throes in 1991, but the world was changing, television was changing, utterly, it's changed probably a dozen times since 1991.
And each time it seemed that Tim was right ahead of the curve as we went through this last political season -- the primary season, and so much happened that was shifted to cable. Tim was right out in front of that. There was no seconds hesitation, to say, all right, this is where the ball game's being played, I'm taking the field and I'm taking all of you with me.
MITCHELL: Well, it's no accident that when we would talk about MSNBC being, "the place for politics," it's because of Tim and Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams and the people who know it best joining all the rest of us on MSNBC. It's them who where providing the leadership to make all of us so much better.
But Tim's adaptability, and the way he took "Meet the Press" from the No. 1 show that it always was, but -- it was pretty competitive with David Brinkley in those years on ABC. And then in 1991, he transformed that broadcast. He made it what it is today. First of all, going to the hour, that was Tim Russert, and, expanding it. And with respect to the history, I mean, no one was more aware of the proud tradition of "Meet the Press" in all of its years than Tim Russert with the "Meet the Press" minutes, with all of the acknowledgements to large feedback.
It was Tim Russert who went to the National Archives and discovered that some of those archives were being lost, that some of those early kinescopes (ph) of "Meet the Press" had not been preserved, and made sure that the rest of them were preserved. He -- when he finds something, he so loves the historic references. But at the same time, everything with him is absolutely current, absolutely up to the minute, no matter what it takes. He moved that broadcast into the, you know, the show that it is, the standard breaker -- the standard bearer of our network, but also the program that created the political dialogue that everyone wanted to know about not only all day Sunday, but Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and the rest of the week.
"Meet the Press" becomes -- became what it is because of Tim Russert.
And it was the vision of Michael Gardner (ph) back then, who was the president of NBC, and put him on the air. This man was the vice president of NBC in charge of the "Today" program and other shows but not a broadcaster. And at the time, Al Hunt and I and David Broder and a few others were doing political commentary -- analysis, I should say
-- not commentary, analysis -- on the "Today" program, and Tim was added to that mix. Tim was added to "Meet the Press." And it was so clear that the people who had the vision at NBC to put him out front. And it was not an easy step. It was controversial to have a bureau chief and a vice president who was also on air.
But the way he shared information -- David Gregory referred to this earlier. For decades now, Tim has been the first person on the phone to say, Here's what I've got, here's some information, whether it's telling something to me or David or any of the other correspondents, or, Here's a smart way you can approach this story tonight, or, We should really be doing this story.
He was a coach/player, a manager/coach...
MITCHELL: ... whatever you want to call it, who was absolutely at the top of his game and who concluded "Meet the Press" last Sunday when he had the entire political team, all of us who were covering politics here this year for NBC -- he had all of the correspondents on, and a lot of us hadn't seen each other because since some of the last primaries, we had crossed paths but had not all been in the same studio on a Sunday morning. And he brought us all together. That was his idea, and Betsy Fisher (ph), his extraordinary executive producer and good friend. And Betsy pulled us all together in one place, and we had a great conversation, speared by Tim, about what we've learned this year and what we can look forward to.
And it was Tim's guidance that not only inspired us, but also concluded
-- as you see him there with Melanie Bloom at one of the David Bloom memorials. I mean, when think about the things that happened to us here on NBC, the loss of David Bloom, who has a plaque on the wall at this bureau, who was our White House correspondent, who led our war coverage, and the fact that Melanie Bloom at the Bloom scholarship's -- at our annual Radio Television Correspondents Dinner just this last year, Melanie Bloom and the girls, her wonderful three girls, stood up and introduced everyone to the next phase of Melanie's life.
And I know Melanie is this weekend in Nantucket, where Tim has had, with Maureen and Luke, so many wonderful times. And Tim being so much a part of life of that community as the leader of charities -- all of the charity dinners that this man goes to, not to schmooze with other people, but to be the speaker, to lend his name, to help raise money for Boys and Girls Clubs and Best Buddies and all of these other causes.
This man has done more to raise the profile of needy charities than anyone else I know and does it willingly and happily, gladly, in his spare time, if there is such a thing as spare time. So there are just so many people deeply affected by this.
I can't begin to tell you of the e-mails from viewers that we're already getting and from friends and from people in the political world.
It's -- this is a life lived large and a life that affects every one of us. But what he did -- to get back to your first question, what he did in transforming "Meet the Press" was extraordinary.
And one other note because I think back to "Meet the Press" last Sunday. There's one person who has made the biggest difference, other than Tim, in our political coverage this year, and that is our political director, Chuck Todd...
MITCHELL: ... who had never done television before. And Tim brought him in, and Chuck has transformed the way we do business on the Internet, on cable, on broadcast and in this bureau. And there is no more avid, you know, lover of politics other than Tim than Chuck, and no one who knows more.
And if I had to think about Tim's legacy to all of us here at NBC News, aside from his family, his professional legacy are the young people, the Chris Donovans (ph) and the Betsy Fishers and the Barbara Fance (ph) who worked so closely with him. And seeing there with Pat Moynihan and the saddest funeral at St. Matthews here, Pat Moynihan, seeing now McCain and Lieberman and some of the others who've talked about Tim already today, but the real legacy here are the young people who have learned so much from him and who also taught him things. And Chuck Todd is at the top of that list.
OLBERMANN: And with us now, indeed, Andrea -- a proper instruction for Chuck Todd, I think, Andrea just supplied. Chuck, this must be an overwhelming moment for you. But the point of Andrea's point was, Tim saw it had worked for him and figured it could work for you. And he would do everything he possibly could to make sure that was the case.
CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I'm just thinking of this weekend and the fact that it's Father's Day on Sunday.
TODD; I don't know of anybody that has made people appreciate their fathers and their relationships with their sons than Tim. I mean, if there has to be a weekend where we have to mourn the loss of Tim, it's Father's Day. And I mean -- my favorite little just moments with Tim are when he's asking about my boy, or he's asking about David's son, or he's telling a story about Luke, you know, or he's talking about his dad. And you know, obviously, anybody with a son or a father -- and you know, you just -- Tim is just such a family guy.
And that's what I think, you know, what Andrea was getting at here, and sort of I think the thing that all of us are so shaken right now is that he was sort of everybody's father figure here at the bureau. And he was the cheerleader and he was the consoler. And when you think about, you know, any of our colleagues that have had health problems or family members with health problems, story after story you hear, you know, God, Tim called me, like, six times to check in on my dad, or, Tim called me to check in on my mom, or you know, my child.
And you know, it's sort of that stuff that you want -- I mean, I think there's no doubt the world knows what a great journalist he was. But it's the -- it's that stuff that I think is why all of us are a little shaken right now, frankly. It's the fact that he was -- he was our friend, he was our mentor, he was an idol to a lot of us, to me. I can't tell you how many people I know that are just sitting there and they're just -- you know, they say, I want to be Tim Russert someday.
And it's -- it's -- it's a huge shock.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned everybody's dad. The National Father's Day Committee had named him Father of the Year in 1995. "Parents" magazine identified him as "the dream dad," how fitting, 1998 and 2001.
TODD: It's unbelievable...
OLBERMANN: It's unbelievable he didn't get the award every year, is what's unbelievable.
TODD: He -- you know, he got to see his son graduate college this year. He was just with him this week. You know, if you're in his office and you're talking work and you're talking business and Luke calls, everything drops. Everything drops. And it was never -- it was never -- there was never a doubt what the priority was.
And what's great about that is that it instills the priority in you and everybody else here. It was never -- you know, you hear about a lot of people in this business, in the news business, whether it's television or print, who sometimes you feel like, you know, you're not allowed to have a family. That was not Tim. If anything, he would lecture you if you weren't with your family enough. You haven't spent the -- you know, take the night off. Go be with your daughter. Go be with your boy. Go be with your family at home.
And it's that legacy that I hope people get to know over the next few days because it's -- you know, obviously, he wrote that book and everybody sort of understands the relationship. And I think he -- he transformed (ph) -- I mean, there was nothing he loved more -- if he would walk into an airport -- and it was amazing. And I got to -- just the fact I got to cover this campaign with him, even for a couple of months, was unbelievable.
But we'd be going to Iowa -- we'd be In Iowa, trudging through the snow this year, going to -- I remember we were going to some Bill Clinton event when nobody was covering Bill Clinton. There were people
(INAUDIBLE) but it was -- a lot of people were -- didn't think it was such a cool thing to do. And of course, the first thing Tim wanted to do is, I want to see Bubba, I want to see how he's campaigning.
And more people would come up to him and talk about how that book changed their relationship with their dad. And that stuff -- forget being recognized. That's the stuff you walk away -- and it's like he'd walk around sometimes with watery eyes half the time he was in a public place because so many people would talk to him about that book and what it did to sort of change -- whatever it touched people personally about their relationship with their fathers.
OLBERMANN: To have touched so many lives in ways that you couldn't possibly expect, one of the great gifts for Tim Russert and from him to the rest of us. Chuck, stand by. I want to read because while we have been talking here, literally, there's a stack of statements from public figures great and small and from people in politics and from people in television. And some of them are in senses, strong senses, heartbreaking. There's also an interview that -- a brief statement John McCain has given on tape to our Kelly O'Donnell, which we'll play in a moment. But I must read you this.
This is from Mayor Byron W. Brown (ph) of Buffalo, New York. "On behalf of the residents of Buffalo," he says, "I express our shared sadness and shock at the news of Tim Russert's death. But more than his professional accomplishments, Tim Russert cherished his family, friends and his hometown. He never forgot his roots in south Buffalo and he often reminded his television audience and guests of his strong affection for Buffalo, particularly his beloved Buffalo Bills. He was truly our city's greatest ambassador and he was loved by everyone in Buffalo and western New York."
If you've ever been there, you know how strong and how on the sleeve that love is. There are many people who resemble, in that sense, Tim Russert. One thing that the mayor did that he says at the end of this statement that will take your breath from you. "To honor Tim Russert's memory, I have ordered that all flags on city property be lowered immediately to half-staff." For a civilian, for a man who never held elected office, such an honor and so well deserved for Tim Russert from Buffalo.
George Stephanopoulos, whose show on ABC, "This Week," competes -- competed with "Meet the Press" and Tim Russert. "Tim loved everything about politics and journalism because he believed in it. Every Sunday morning, he brought the passion to the table and made all of us better.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family, especially Maureen, Luke, and his father, Russ," a gracious statement from George Stephanopoulos, who was one of Tim's rivals in that field.
Bob Schieffer of CBS News, a venerable figure in broadcasting, and in many senses, a Russert-like figure for those at CBS, the anchor of "Face the Nation," CBS's Sunday morning political show. "Tim was the best of our profession. He asked the best questions and then he listened for the answer. We became very close friends over the years," Bob Schieffer continued. "He delighted in scooping me, and I felt the same way when I scooped him. When you slipped one past old Russert, you felt as though you'd hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league. I just love Tim, and I will miss him more than I can say. And my heart goes out to his son, Luke, and his wife, Maureen," from Bob Schieffer.
And one last one before we play Mr. McCain's sound, from Dan Rather.
"Tim's passing is a loss not only to his family and to many friends, it's a loss to good journalism and to our country. Tim first and foremost was devout in his faith and deeply devoted to his family. He loved his country with a passion and became a classic example of the ideal American journalist. Tim had become an important part of our political process. He will be especially missed in this historic presidential election year. Tim Russert was a beacon of quality journalism," Dan Rather says today. "At a time when quality journalism is in increasingly short supply, Tim Russert was a leader for what is best in American journalism. He was tough but fair, pulled no punches, played no favorites. As an interviewer, he had few, if any, peers."
We'll say say amen to that from Mr. Dan Rather about Tim Russert.
As we said, John McCain, who'd already issued a generous statement about Tim Russert, was interviewed this afternoon by Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Lieberman and I would like to just make a brief statement concerning the shocking news about the untimely death of a great journalist and a great American, Tim Russert. Tim Russert was at the top of his profession. He was a man of honesty and integrity. He was hard, but he was always fair. We miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity of the highest level of journalism, and we'll miss him and we'll miss him a lot. Again, he was hard. He was fair. He was at the top of his profession. He loved his country. He loved the Buffalo Bills. And most of all, he loved his family.
OLBERMANN: John McCain's statement today on camera.
There's one now from the Clinton family, from both President Clinton and Senator Clinton. "We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Tim Russert. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, his son, Luke, his father, who we have all come to know as Big Russ, his extended family and all of his many friends and colleagues at NBC, who have suffered a tremendous loss. Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim had a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also of those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him. In seeking answers to tough questions, he helped inform the American people and make our democracy stronger. We join his friends, fans and loved ones in mourning his loss and celebrating his remarkable contribution to our nation," Senator and President Clinton on the passing of Tim Russert.
I'd like to turn again to Howard Fineman first, as we continue to, if you somehow missed the news, report to you that Tim Russert, NBC News Washington bureau chief and the moderator of "Meet the Press," has passed away this afternoon at the age of 58, having collapsed in our NBC News bureau in Washington.
His internist, Dr. Michael Newman (ph), has made a statement from Sibley (ph) Hospital, where Tim was taken. I'll read that and then resume our reflections and attempts to make some sense of all this. Dr.
Newman said, "Tim Russert collapsed while preparing for `Meet the Press.' Resuscitation was begun immediately, and the D.C. EMS arrived on the scene and a full code was initiated and he was transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where resuscitation efforts were continued, but to no avail. The cause of death is yet to be determined. An autopsy is being performed."
Howard, I can't imagine anything that would be -- if something like this is so utterly unpredictable and utterly unbelievable, the one believable part about it, I suppose, is the first sentence of Dr.
Newman's statement, "Tim Russert collapsed while preparing for `Meet the Press.'"
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm sitting here in the bureau that Tim didn't build but presided over like the benevolent dad, like the bureau chief that he was. I'm thinking about his family. I'm thinking about Maureen Orth, his lovely and incredibly accomplished wife, a great journalist, a great journalist. They loved each other passionately. Maureen had her own professional life that she pursued with great vigor. They were both incredibly dedicated to their child, Luke, who, as others have pointed out, Tim was able to see graduate from Boston College. They went over to Italy. Maureen and Luke are still there, I gather, and on their way back. But Tim came back early, as I said before, to begin preparing for "Meet the Press."
But the fact that they were in Italy reminds me of something I wanted to mention. I'm not Catholic, I'm Jewish, but I'll tell you, if I ever thought about being Catholic, Tim would be the best advertisement for that faith that there is. I happened to attend, almost sneak in, I would say, but attend, a real fish out of water, which is the Al Smith dinner in New York, which is the big dinner of all the Irish Catholic pals in New York which used to be, and to some extent still is, synonymous with all politicians in New York.
And they're all there in white tie. And Tim was in his element. And he took a double take when he saw me there because I was just trying to cover a political story, was not properly dressed, of course. And nobody could be more embracing and welcoming than Tim. He said, You know, We Might try and bring you over, Fineman.
FINEMAN: You know, we might try and reel you in. And you know what?
He would have been a great fisherman for his faith. He used the analogy on purpose. Obviously, his faith animated him in a way that people outside the city didn't necessarily understand.
We talked about Buffalo. We talked about his family. We talked about his love of journalism. But in whatever way he expressed it, he was a very deeply devout Catholic. I think the structure of the church meant a tremendous amount to Tim. Tim was a guy of structure, loved his family, loved the bureau, loved the camaraderie of NBC, loved journalism and being part of the tribe of journalism.
But I think the faith that he must have learned up in Buffalo from his parents that he grew up in, in that Catholic community in Buffalo, meant everything to him and helped guide and focus him and keep him grounded in this city, where way too many people pursue false gods. And Tim was the kind of guy who never pursued false gods. He pursued the real one.
OLBERMANN: Pat Buchanan of -- one our of MSNBC and NBC political analysts, is with us, as well.
FINEMAN: That was a good instruction to Pat, I think.
OLBERMANN: Well, yes.
OLBERMANN: Pat, I have to ask, with all of his political background, with all of this experience, with his associations with Senator Moynihan and Governor Cuomo, and this almost uncanny, supernatural ability to retain information and organize it and call upon it whenever necessary on the air or off.
How did he wind up doing this as -- as his life's work in television, as opposed to getting, say, somebody elected president of the United States?
PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Tim was a -- what you would call a transfer student.
He worked for Governor Cuomo. And Pat Moynihan was enormously proud of it. And Tim was a real student. I come over here sometimes, Keith, on Saturdays and do a little hit in the morning. And I would often ran into Tim. And he had his old clothes on, and he was coming out and he was smiling.
He was a Catholic kid who had done his homework and who was prepared.
And when he was going to be called on the next day, he was really going to perform. He had a tremendous love for what he was doing, an infectious sense of humor, a tremendous ability really to share an inside story which he had picked up.
You know, Howard mentioned that he is a rooted person, a deeply rooted person. That was the Tim I knew. He loved his family. He talked about Maureen. He talked about Luke. He talked about Big Russ, the stories.
He talked about the school -- the high school he went to up there. He talked about the church.
You know, we would get together often on -- when we would come up there for those Tuesday nights with you fellows. And he would come on the set. And I would be on there with Barnicle. And he would start off picking up part of the altar boys' liturgy. And we would have to pick up on it. And he remembered that.
And you could tell he was a man that loved where he came from and who he was and the people he came from. And I think he saw himself as really someone who was representing them when he reached the heights that he did. Clearly, he's a giant of American journalism. You know, we hear that statement often. An institution is but the length and shadow of a single man.
"Meet the Press" today is the length and shadow of Tim Russert. I was on the other side during the '90s, when I was a candidate a number of times. And you always knew you were going into the batter's box against the best.
I would be down there in the library here, rather than go into the green room. So, I would be studying. And he would come in smiling and, how are you doing, Pat, and you're debating so-and-so, tell you a story or two and something that was up.
And then you would go in there, and he threw them hard. He didn't throw them at your head. He threw them hard and high and hit right down the middle. He was as good and tough a questioner as we have got in this business.
He turned "Meet the Press" into the appointment show on Sunday. And with no -- with due respect to George and to Bob Schieffer, this was the place to be and this was the show. And it was Tim Russert.
And, again, when we were back up there in New York, what you got was that infectious sense of humor, the laughter at what is going on and what people are saying. He delighted in politics. He never got stale or weary or cynical about politics. It was always something fresh and exciting, even though I'm sure this is way down the road in the number of campaigns. But he was a very memorable man, an unforgettable man.
OLBERMANN: Pat, well put, as always.
We have -- you mentioned, and I have read those statements from George Stephanopoulos and from Bob Schieffer, that this is not just a loss in terms of television to the NBC family, acute and reverberating even as it is for us, but also for all of television, all of journalism.
We are pleased, under the circumstances, to be joined by Barbara Walters of ABC News, formally of NBC News.
Can you put Tim Russert in some sort of perspective in terms of our collective business?
BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: If I can get over my shock and grief of this.
I would like to talk, Keith, not just of what he meant to us as journalists, because I think he made us all proud. And he was enormously generous. I was just with Tim a month ago when he interviewed me for his own one-hour program. And his generosity towards me and to all journalists is something that we treasure.
But I want to talk about the country, because the shock of people, of Americans, as they hear this, because Tim, for us, yes, he was a friend and a journalist, but for this country, this is a man they came to know so well. And I think that the grief this country's going to face is, well, perhaps similar to what we felt when Peter Jennings died such an untimely death just three years ago, also in the summer.
And it's not us -- we will grieve, and we know what he meant to journalism -- but also to this country. This is a man that they respected. Nobody knew what his political opinions were.
But it's not just that he made us proud. He was a friend to millions of people. And I think you're going to have a nation that is as sad about Tim as they would be if it were, oh, what, almost any political figure. He was respected and admired and loved.
OLBERMANN: And, perhaps, almost any family member. It is -- it was that close of a relationship, as we have heard time and time again, in telling stories. Chuck Todd told this story. Just walk through an airport with Tim Russert, and that impact, that connection to people was
-- was overwhelming, because they came up and talked to him as if addressing a friend, as if addressing someone.
WALTERS: Yes, "Hi, Tim." "Hi, Tim."
WALTERS: And when his book about his father came out, I mean, Tim -- I wrote a memoir. Well, Tim could have done a whole memoir. He didn't.
He wrote about his father, "Big Russ and Me."
And on our interview, we talked about our parents. And he spoke of his admiration and his love of his son, Luke. And, of course, Maureen Orth, his wife, is herself such a respected journalist.
But I just -- I keep -- I'm stuttering, not only at my own grief and loss, but of what this is going to mean for this country. You know, I can't imagine someone who touched the hearts of as many people -- journalism is not in the highest regard everywhere in this nation, as we know. But if it is in high regard at all, it's because of someone like Tim.
OLBERMANN: What would you think would be the inspiration to try to explain to up-and-coming journalists, to people in the public eye, what credo of the career and life of Tim Russert could we take and, perhaps, improve everyone's work from someone just starting in this business today, to either you or I?
WALTERS: Homework. Couldn't watch those programs ever without noticing and remarking on the kind of homework he did.
Objectivity. I mean, I don't know what his political beliefs were.
And I don't think most people did. And the fact that he was tireless.
You know, we worry now -- and maybe we blame this whole business -- was he too tired? Did he travel too much? Was this stress? Is this business, in its own way, a killer?
And we worry that Tim -- not that I think that this brings on a heart attack, but we worry about the kind of stress and strain.
But, just, if you want an example of a man who took his work seriously and his family seriously, and was a friend to other journalists and to this country, well, that person is Tim Russert.
OLBERMANN: Barbara, how would you have stopped him? How would you have been able to slow him down, even if there was some cause and effect available to him?
WALTERS: You can't. You can't. You can't.
I'm sure Maureen tried to at times. This was his life, and especially now, especially now. I mean, he was -- this whole year, he's been on MSNBC. And when he's not on MSNBC, he's on "The Today Show." And when he's not on "The Today Show," he's doing "Meet the Press." And when he's not on "Meet the Press," he's doing his own one-hour program. He loved it.
You couldn't have slowed him down. And I don't think that this is -- I'm not a doctor. I don't think that this is what caused the attack.
But he loved what he did. And, somewhere, he's saying, oh, darn. Why couldn't it have happened after the election, if ever?
WALTERS: But I just -- I mean, if I'm babbling, it's because...
OLBERMANN: No, no.
WALTERS: ... all of us are just in such shock, this -- this healthy, smiling, brilliant, good-natured, superb journalist.
OLBERMANN: The term that was used earlier by Andrea Mitchell was player-coach. It's a sports term. It's a rare thing, or player-manager, a fellow is both running the operation and is also out there on the field in some vital role.
OLBERMANN: They don't let many people try it anymore, because it's so taxing in so many respects.
But I guess, to some degree, was this true of him, even outside of those of us at NBC News?
OLBERMANN: Did you see this for the -- and I don't want to overdo this, but...
OLBERMANN: ... the business.
WALTERS: They're aren't -- I can't -- just off the top of my head, I can't think of correspondents who are also the head of the news bureau.
And, by the way, Tim's not a pretty face.
WALTERS: He has a wonderful face and that big -- big grin, but, you know, this is not -- when you make fun of those of us in the business, oh, well, so-and-so got it because he just looks the part. Tim did not look the part.
But this is a man who not only ran that whole bureau. That means that you had to be tough sometimes with correspondents. That means he had to hire and fire. And at the same time, he had to do his homework and prepare for not just "Meet the Press," but for all of the appearances and for a one-hour interview that he did every week.
I don't know how he did it. But, if you want to have an example, any of us, an example of someone we can all be so proud of, it's Tim Russert. And I tell you, this country is -- will be -- will be in deep mourning. And there aren't too many journalists they're going to mourn for.
OLBERMANN: Barbara Walters, how gracious of you to join us under these circumstances. Great thanks.
WALTERS: I'm so sad that I am joining you under such circumstances.
OLBERMANN: I am, too.
WALTERS: My heart goes out to all of you as NBC. As much grief as we feel, yours must be even more profound.
Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Barbara.
Let's continue here. I'm going to read a couple of more statements, because this again -- this touches on Barbara Walters' point just there.
David Westin, the president of ABC News: "Tim Russert was a great newsman who helped set the standard for political reporting and public affairs programming. His fine work made all of us better and benefited the Nation as a result. Tim was also a great friend to so many of us.
But, above all, Tim was a man devoted to his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and everyone at NBC News at this devastating time."
Charlie Gibson from ABC, the anchor of "World News": "Tim projected vitality" -- very apt, sir -- "always excited about the stories he covered and intrigued by the people he interviewed. That's what made him so good, and his passing so hard to absorb. His competitors -- just like his co-workers -- held Tim in the highest of regard" -- Charles Gibson from ABC News.
Let me touch on something with our guests here in the studio and in the Washington bureau.
Gene Robinson of "The Washington Post" has been standing by kindly for quite a while. And we haven't had a chance really to talk yet.
The idea that Barbara Walters raised, that we may be seeing this too narrowly, that we are saddened here because we knew him, we worked with him, he inspired us, we may be missing the bigger point here. This is a loss to the nation.
EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Well, it is certainly a loss to Washington and to politics in this country.
I mean, what Tim did with "Meet the Press" was establish a unique arena, where contestants from all points along the political spectrum would come, and fight it out, and be grilled, and present their point of view, and make news.
And, you know, I don't know anyone who went on "Meet the Press" and came away feeling that Tim had -- had had an agenda, had treated them unfairly. Perhaps they that felt he had been rough with them, because he had done his homework, and he had had their own words to throw back at them, often contradictory words.
But no one believed that Tim leaned this way or that way. He played it straight up.
You know, Barbara Walters said a fascinating thing that was so appropriate. She described Tim as good-natured. And -- and it struck me that, not only was he a -- inherently a good-natured man, but he wanted to find that good nature in others and was open to it.
And he was just an extraordinary journalist, and an extraordinary person. I remember the first time I ever went on "Meet the Press," and, afterwards, he asked about my family. I told him about my two sons.
And he never forgot their names. He never forgot what they were doing, where they were in school, what they liked, what they didn't like.
Anything I told him, he was a -- he was, you know, a people person, in the best sense of that word. He -- it is -- I still cannot believe that he is not with us anymore. I can't believe it.
OLBERMANN: It does not absorb any more easily here, Gene.
Let me just recap, because we have just passed the bottom of the hour,
5:34 Eastern time.
If you are just joining us, Tim Russert, our leader at NBC News and MSNBC, the moderator of "Meet the Press" -- and there may be another host of "Meet the Press," but I doubt there will be another moderator of "Meet the Press" -- the bureau chief for NBC News in Washington, and one of the singular figures in American news coverage and American political coverage, a tireless worker, and a great friend and supporter of everyone you see on this channel and CNBC and NBC News, died today.
From his internist, Dr. Michael Newman, this brief statement that may explain as much as we know about the exact circumstances of what
happened: "Tim Russert collapsed while preparing for 'Meet the Press.'"
Dr. Newman did not say this, but we can add this detail in. He was just back from a brief vacation to Italy, so he could be back on the air on Sunday.
"Resuscitation was begun immediately. And the District of Columbia EMS arrived on the scene. And a full code was initiated. He was transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District, where resuscitation efforts were continued, but to no avail. The cause of death is yet to be determined."
And Dr. Newman said that an autopsy was being performed. This happened in the NBC News bureau this afternoon, obviously to the extraordinary shock and grief of all those working there -- and under the NBC flag throughout this country and all the others, just an extraordinary and terrible day in the history of American journalism, in fact.
I want to continue to try to put this in some sort of perspective.
And, again, I have just fallen into the trap that I was asking Gene Robinson about.
Peggy Noonan has written several books and many presidential speeches and is a political commentator of great renown and great duration. And she's in the bureau with us here in New York.
Are we, in fact, somehow not seeing the forest for the trees, in terms of Tim's influence on America's perception of America?
PEGGY NOONAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL SPEECHWRITER: Keith, hello.
NOONAN: Sorry. I had a little trouble there.
Look, I think Barbara Walters and you both nailed this. This is a blow to America. I know there's going to be a lot of tears in Washington tonight. There's going be a lot of tears in New York and in the journalistic community.
But Tim Russert was known to everybody, and he had a kind of presence as someone you trusted to be fair, that that Sunday morning grilling was a fair grilling. He grilled one side and then the other. I knew him for many years. I never knew who he voted for.
I just think this is very big. As Barbara said, it is a death in the family.
OLBERMANN: And what is the lesson to those of us who try to report the news? And I won't claim to be in the same millennium in terms of quality or the ability to focus in that way, that ultimately nonpartisan, fair way.
But what can we grasp from him that perhaps is not apparent on the surface?
NOONAN: Oh, Keith, caring, I think.
You care. A lot of us care. It is a good thing to care about your country. Tim was a real patriot. And I think he radiated that. He had a kind of love of country that was clear. I guess, if you looked at him as a political professional in a demographic way, you would say, OK, we have got a peripheral urban, Reagan Democrat type fellow there, ethnic, Eastern, et cetera.
But what he was, was just a basic old America patriot. I talked to him so many times. You did. We both knew he had a strong sense. He didn't judge political figures by Dem or Rep or conservative or liberal. But he did have a sense of them as goods folks and not, as good eggs and not. And you know this.
He and I had a few conversations in which he sort of let me know now and then who he thought was a bad egg. And he wouldn't do it with anger, and he wouldn't do it -- he wouldn't express himself with any rage or cynicism. He would look surprised, like, how did someone like that person rise so far in this great country, you know?
It was a beautiful thing to see his patriotism.
Could I add, Keith, also that...
NOONAN: ... Howard touched on something that I thought was so central to him.
Tim was a Catholic. He loved his church with clear eyes. He honored priests and nuns. We were, a while back, at a symposium at Boston College that we both appeared at. And, like a lovely gentleman, he had brought a guest who he pointed out from the stage and said, this is my honored guest.
Well, it was a nun who I think had taught him in the third grade, and with whom he still had a relationship and was still in touch.
There are a lot of people -- it happens to all of us. When you taste success in America or you have known success for a while, you can forget the old things like your faith, the faith that guided you, the love of God that filled you up at one time.
He wasn't like that. He brought it all with him, brought it in, breathed it in, and brought it into his life each day. I thought that was a beautiful thing to see.
OLBERMANN: Very nicely put, a kind of -- again, it will almost insult his memory. And I don't mean it this way. I mean it in the most affectionate way possible.
If you could imagine the -- the Mr. Smith character that Jimmy Stewart portrayed bringing his life with him into the Senate. Here's the broadcast version of that.
I think that's fair, isn't it?
NOONAN: Yes, I think it is. There was a great sweetness there.
Journalists aren't known for sweetness. There's a lot of sweetness, a lot of simple, essential, American man, good stuff. As I say, I think it reminded me of the great novel by James Agey (ph), "A Death in the Family."
I was thinking in the car on the way here, if I could say really quick, in "A Death in the Family," that great novel, it's about the death of a father. They put -- when the father suddenly died, they put on his gravestone these words that captured and summed him up: he had died fairly young and he died in his joy. They put on the gravestone, in his joy. And when I found out that Tim had died today at work, preparing for "Meet the Press," I thought, in his joy.
OLBERMANN: Indeed. Beautifully said. Peggy, thank you.
There's a statement, I believe Andrea Mitchell eluded to this earlier, about the closeness with Maria Shriver and Tim. She's issued a statement. "Tim Russert" -- I will defer, since Andrea has obtained this. We were not sure we had connection. Andrea, do you want to report what Maria Shriver said?
MITCHELL: Well, as you suggested, Maria and Tim were very, very close.
Maria, before she was first lady of California, was, of course, the co-anchor of "Weekend Today." She was an NBC correspondent. She was on the podium for all of our conventions. She worked so closely with Tim.
She's also a Kennedy. Tim has known her forever and was very close to her family and all of their -- the special Olympics.
If something happened with Eunice Shriver, accidents over the years, problems, as everyone knows, with Shriver, as he has aged and has been suffering from Alzheimers. All of these Kennedy children, nieces, nephews have all been so close to Tim. Even though there was an earlier joint statement from Governor Schwarzenegger and Maria, this is more personal; "Tim Russert was one of my personal friends and he was like a brother to me," said Maria. "He was not only a professional confidant, but a personal one. He was always the first person to call me whenever anything happened with my family and he always called me just to check in and see how I was doing and to encourage me. My heart goes out to his son, Luke, his wife, Maureen, his father, sister and entire family.
They were his joy in life. Family and faith were everything to him.
He was one of a kind to me, and I was lucky enough to have him as a best friend."
That's a very heart-felt statement from the first lady of California, Maria Shriver, our friend and colleague, former colleague, Maria Shriver.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Andrea. We have had John Meacham, managing editor of "Newsweek Magazine" standing by for most of the afternoon.
Circumstances have not provided us with the opportunity to talk to him before now. John, thank you for your patience. I can't imagine the number of times -- I couldn't count the number of times you were on the air with Tim. I can't imagine where to start in your memories of him and your reaction to this awful news.
JOHN MEACHAM, "NEWSWEEK": The first thing I thought of was one of the first e-mails I got three months ago, when our third child was born, was from Tim. I hadn't called him. I didn't know his reporting extended to Columbia Presbyterian in New York. He had a great gift for doing something that a lot of us in our business don't do enough of, which is he listened. He asked questions that he actually wanted to hear the answers to. And I have very clear memories, as I'm sure everyone who spent some time on broadcast with him will remember, of having him look at you after he's asked a question, clearly fascinated by or interested in what you're going to say. And that, as we know, is not as common as it should be.
He was -- I agree with what Peggy was saying. He was kind of a journalistic Theodore Roosevelt. He a great joy of life in the arena.
I think it's wonderfully appropriate that he had been both a participant in politics as a young man, and had helped the rest of us understand him as the years went by. It's not given to many people to be part of the visual pageant of the life of the country, and you can't think about the election of 2000 without thinking about the white board.
You can't think about Senator Clinton's rise on her own power without thinking of him, I think, as a debate moderator, in the New York Senate races and on and on and on. But I think he loved conversation and there are not enough places on television where one could have a conversation about the things he loved and that so many of us love, history and faith and the politics of the moment, in a way where if you had a thought worth getting to the third sentence with, he would let you do it.
Maybe he shouldn't have let you always do that, but it was -- it was a wonderfully open, I think, and serious-minded place to be on television in journalism, and I never felt -- other people have made this point. I always felt as though he wanted to know what you had to say.
OLBERMANN: The -- while you were talking about that, I was thinking of the occasion when in 1997, for reasons I'm still not clear about, Tim came to New York and recorded one of those weekend shows and interviewed me for it. And I was mystified. I had just started the first version of my work here and certainly, to me, didn't seem to merit any interview whatsoever. He was absolutely resolute about not interrupting.
I also noted that, whereas he seemed to have a page of notes in front of him, I don't remember him ever looking at it. This is contrary to those inquisitorial interviews on "Meet the Press," where there was a series of statements that whoever the guest, and that term might be used loosely, but whoever was the participant at the other end would have his own words, which Tim personally often researched and got back and was able to throw back at them if they had in some way contradicted themselves.
But the willingness to let you, as you suggest, finish your thought and then draw something else out from you that, perhaps, you hadn't thought previously. It was a -- he not only interviewed you, but in my case, many times, helped me crystallize my thinking about every subject from politics to baseball.
MEACHAM: Absolutely. It's wonderful you should say that. I had not thought of it. Particularly on the weekend show, you're right. He had a pad and he had notes on it. He wouldn't look down. But once a point was done, he would mark if off.
MEACHAM: You remember that? He had clearly committed it to memory, essentially. You'd go to commercial, and he would say, OK, we're going to come back and talk about X are Y. Then he'd tell you a story about the Catholic parish in Buffalo or the ward healer there.
One story that immediately came to mind this afternoon was about a year or so ago, when Christopher Hitchens, our colleague and friend, was in the midst of that very great best-selling tour with his book on atheism in America, the phone rang in my office in New York one day, and it was Russert saying, would you come down and debate Hitchens about the existence of god? And I said, hell, no, sir. Years ago, I decided that to debate Christopher Hitchens was a form of masochism that I didn't need. Life is complicated enough.
He said, come on. Come on and defend the faith. It was this wonderfully avuncular challenge. And I did go down and Tim bailed me out of a spot or two, before Christopher was about to snap at me with those jaws of his. I honestly believe that he provided a civilized place in a world that tends toward conflict, tends toward confrontation.
He was confrontational in a civilized way.
He wanted to hold people to account. And I think the lesson we can all take from this is, do your homework, always realize that people are human beings. Politicians are not automotans. These are people who have volunteered to come into the arena. He always asked questions, always understood that we're fundamentally shaped by human forces, and that nobody was all good or all bad. And those are lessons that I think we should all keep in mind every day.
OLBERMANN: John Meacham of "Newsweek," thank you. I mentioned, you may have heard Barbara Walters joined us earlier for her thoughts on the passing of Tim. We're grateful extraordinarily grateful to Bob Schieffer, CBS News chief Washington correspondent, the anchor of "Face the Nation," who is joining us now from Paris with his reaction.
Bob, I can't imagine your feelings, tonight. Please just tell me what you thought, what you heard.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Well, I was devastated and stunned.
Tim and I, in addition to being head to head competitors, had become very close friends, oddly enough, over the years. Tim just loved news, Keith. He loved politics, most of all, and it was infectious.
I remember last year he was saying to me -- we had seats together at the Nationals ballpark. We set our seats next to one another. So we saw each other a lot at the ball games. He's a great baseball fan. He was talking, can you believe this campaign we're all about to cover? He was like a kid at Christmas.
That's why it was so much fun to be around him, and why, quite frankly, why I'm going to miss him so much. Tim, in a funny kind of way, had became a part of my life. I feel like, with him gone, that I've lost a part of my life here. It's very hard to describe right now.
OLBERMANN: This is such a business of conflict and such a business of competition. And, yet, I always gathered from working with him, having the privilege of doing that -- every time I've ever used the word privilege, I feel I should have saved it for this occasion, rather than waste it on the other ones. But that sense of conflict and competition didn't seem to be there. I gather that's true from what you're saying.
This was -- I guess what I'm getting at, I suppose you could never have been mad at him for getting a guest you really wanted first, because it was Tim.
SCHIEFFER: No. And, you know, when I got -- when I stole one from him, when I put one past Russert, I felt like I hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league, Keith. That's the way that was. And let me tell you something. It always delighted him when he scooped me. We had that kind of a relationship.
But the other part of it was he had such a respect for what we do and such a respect for the news that when you beat him on that rare occasion when I would, he'd tip his hat and go on to the next one. It was never, you know, you must have gotten lucky. You never heard any grousing about it. He just loved the news. He knew he was going to get me the next time. And, so, you know, he'd say good get there and go on to something else.
We really were good friends. I know you're a great baseball fan. When the Fort Worth Cats, a minor league ball club in my hometown, Keith, gave me a bobble head doll, and had a bobble head Bob night, when I returned to Washington on my desk was a little box. I opened it up, and there was a bobble head doll of Tim Russert, with a little note, just wanted you to know I had one too. The Buffalo team had given him one.
He was some kind of guy, I tell you.
OLBERMANN: Do you concur with this, that there was something he managed to inject into this process, not just Sunday morning political talk, but, in fact, our coverage as television has changed so markedly in the last 20 year. Something that he did that reinvigorated this entire process on Sunday morning that allowed, to varying degrees, he and you and George Stephanopoulos to essentially set the table for the week. Do you know what that was? What did Tim bring that seemed to energize that whole genre again?
SCHIEFFER: Well, Tim asked the right questions. The reason he asked the right questions is because he did this prodigious research. He always came prepared. He did his homework for the interviews. Tim made the person being interviewed the center of attention, and it was because he asked the good questions. I said this before, he never tried to get people to say something they didn't mean to say. He wasn't trying to trip someone up. He was trying to get them to say exactly what they meant. He wanted to know exactly what was on their mind and then he asked them questions about it, to see if it would stand up to hard questioning.
I think Tim not only made journalism better, Keith, I think he probably made politics better, because he played no favorites. He was not partisan. He was a registered independent. He had worked for Democrats during the days when he was in politics. He put that all aside. And he was driven by getting the story and getting to the truth, which is what journalism is supposed to be about. When we concentrate on that, we do just fine. It's when we kind of complicate that that we all seem to get into trouble.
But Tim knew the object was to get the truth, and he was just the best at getting it.
OLBERMANN: Bob Schieffer, one last question, and then we'll let you go with our thanks and our condolences in this very grave, sad time. Do you agree, Barbara Walters said that we may be to some degree under-appreciating the importance of this, that this is an extraordinary shock at NBC, at CBS, at ABC, at CNN, throughout the news business, throughout the political world, throughout the Washington world. But we're forgetting what sort of impact this will have on the country, that we've lost an asset, and millions of people have lost someone who is akin to a personal friend.
SCHIEFFER: Well, Tim was the best of the best. He was the best of our profession. I think he's someone all of us can be proud of. He set a wonderful example. Keith, I don't want to overlook one other thing, the wonderful relationship -- and my heart goes out to his father. My heart goes out to his wife and to his son. He had such a wonderful relationship, as we approach this Father's Day, with his dad. He wrote the book, "Big Russ," about this dad. I feel so bad for his dad at this particular time. No son loved their father more than Tim Russert loved his dad, and I think that probably the reverse of that was true also.
OLBERMANN: Bob Schieffer of "Face the Nation" on CBS News, kind enough to step in front of the cameras for us tonight from Paris. As I said, sir, our condolences to you, as well. Thank you, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We'll continue to remember Tim Russert. If somehow the news is new to you, at the age of 58, our NBC News Washington bureau chief, moderator of "Meet the Press," our, as he was described, explainer in chief, Senator Lieberman with a glorious phrase -- the explainer in chief. Tim Russert passed away this afternoon, collapsed while preparing Sunday's edition of "Meet the Press" in the NBC News Washington bureau. Attempts were made there to resuscitate him to no avail. He was taken to an emergency room at Sibley Hospital. Attempts were made there to revive him to no avail.
We don't have a cause of death officially. There is an autopsy being conducted. Tim was 58 years old. His sudden passing still is unbelievable, in the literal sense of the word. We continue to remember Tim Russert by those who are just getting used to, if that's possible, the idea of Tim Russert in the past tense rather bounding into this room off camera, greeting someone loudly with a smile on his face, and then suddenly realizing the rest of us were on air, and hunching down and smiling at us.
Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News, one of our White House correspondents and a veteran of our Washington bureau, and having worked here previously, is with us now. I'll start where we started with everyone else. How are you coping with this? What are your immediate recollections of Tim?
KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Keith, what you just described brings a smile to our face because one of the things that our viewers didn't get to see very often was that animated quality Tim had when he was not on the air, where he could say so much to you simply by raising his eyebrows, usually when he was wearing his glasses.
I was always so touched by the personal encouragement he would give to all of us. I'm sure our viewers can appreciate when you have a mentor and you have a boss and you have someone you enjoy working with because you love the same things, a day like this, we are all feeling it personally. I hope our viewers aren't just seeing this as our recollections of someone we loved and someone we care about, but what he has meant to a much wider group and the example that I think he represents for so many journalists and so many people that are enthralled by this political season.
Tim had a way, a unique way, of being both wise, being courageous enough to say what needed to be said, but always in a spirit of fair-mindedness. There was never a sense of trying to play gotcha in a negative way. He would persist and he would press, but always with the intention of bringing about some light, not just putting someone on the hot seat.
Today, I was with Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman when we got this news. And it seemed so unbelievable, not only to me, but to them. They shared their thoughts and --
KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And today, I was with Senator McCain and Senator Lieberman when we got the news. And it seemed so unbelievable, not only to me, but to them. And they shared their thoughts and remembrances about being on "MEET THE PRESS" so many times. And I think they would be OK about my sharing how they felt the shock, but also that we shared some laughs about what it was like for them to be on that program.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a guest many times, would say, "I would have to remind myself that Tim Russert, who would be a friend, and someone who would be kidding and joking with me, boy, when those lights would role, he was going to be my inquisitor." And so Joe Lieberman was recounting some of that today.
And Senator McCain told me that he would try to filibuster and Tim would always stop him. And that he had a way of holding those lawmakers to account, especially the presidential candidates.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN": Kelly?
OLBERMANN: Why don't we just play some of this interview? It's in the machinery. We can hear some of this directly, all right?
O'DONNELL: I know that you've been a guest on "MEET THE PRESS" many times, and you have worked with Tim Russert. And over these many years.
Just wanted to get some of your thoughts as we come to grips with this loss.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we're ver saddened, as so many Americans are. And our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and his friends.
Tim Russert was the top of his profession. He was always tough, he was always fair. He was always fair, he was tough on all of us. And what America gained from him was the insight and the knowledge about the leadership of our country that made them more capable of rendering judgments and also being informed.
We'll miss him. And, again, our sympathy and our prayers go out to his friends and family. And God rest and God bless.
O'DONNELL: Senator, what did it mean to have to face Russert on "MEET THE PRESS" in terms of part of the grilling process of being a candidate? What did that "MEET THE PRESS" appearance mean for you?
MCCAIN: Well, I once told him that I hadn't had so much fun since my last interrogation in prison camp. He was very tough, but very fair.
Many things that Tim Russert expected of you, but one of them was to be straightforward. And he could cut through a filibuster better than anybody I ever know. I know, I tried it several times.
But, I think another thing that was a great attribute, he did his homework and he studied what your positions were, what your ideas and thoughts were, but he also wanted to know what you were going to do for the country. So, again, it is not a surprise that he was at the top of his profession.
And going on "MEET THE PRESS" on Sunday was both a joy and a great fear, but he also, among many other things, allowed you the ability to communicate with millions of Americans. And he also made it very clear that, if you are not communicating adequately, he was going to try to make sure that you did.
O'DONNELL: Thank you both.
MCCAIN: Thank you. God bless.
OLBERMANN: Kelly O'Donnell, that was exactly as you described it, that mixture which I guess we are all experiencing right now, the mixture of shock and sadness. And yet, there is -- you can't go more than a minute and a half without smiling at the memory of Tim Russert.
O'DONNELL: I was a guest, along with a number of our political reporter, colleagues, last Sunday, and I can tell you how grateful I am now to have had some of those moments, not only what the viewers saw, but after the program, just being able to laugh with him, his enthusiasm for this campaign season. And what he would always say to me, as I would park or hang up the phone, "Go get him, K.O."
O'DONNELL: And that encouragement was just so great.
And I think what Senator McCain was getting at, which is important for our viewers, is that Tim provided a way for people who are not necessarily watching politics the way we are, day in, day out, to really see on that hour on Sunday some of the most important conversation about really, truly important issues in American life, to see them debated in a way that had a respectful tone, but you knew would make news. Would take the story further.
He was phenomenal at that. And I think a model for all of us.
I remember him telling me he would always take his newsmaker guest position and try to argue the opposite position in order to elicit something new. And I can also tell you, Keith, on days when we would get the announcement that President Bush would be holding a news conference, I would put in the note in our internal sort of alert system, and within moments, the phone would ring at the White House booth, and it would be Tim Russert, "What are you going to ask him?"
And we would strategize about what would be the most important question of the day.
Sometimes David Gregory and I and Tim would get on a conference call.
And there was such enthusiasm, because you knew if there was a presidential news conference, you would get only one crack at the president to ask a question, so, boy, you had to spend it wisely. And we always felt, at least I did, any question I asked, I hoped it passed the Russert test more than anything, because he expected a lot of us.
He expected us to make news and to be tough and yet fair, and hopefully to add something to the American conversation. So those sorts of memories are precious to me.
In Iowa, this past political season, I remember being at events where I would be covering the candidates I was assigned, and I would usually work the room a bit to get a sense of what people were thinking. And on more than one occasion, I bumped into Tim Russert, sort of incognito, wearing his glasses, wearing a coat. No one around him even realized it was him. He just wanted to experience what the event was like for the Iowa voters who were going to be making a decision, to get his own sense of what that candidate's performance was.
I was so struck by that, because his preparation, both the mental and research part, but also the time, to go to the events, to be there in person, and his shared joy in covering politics, I think that is something that I will always treasure.
I'm from Cleveland, Ohio, originally. We all know the story of Buffalo, New York. And Tim also went to college -- or law school, I believe, in Cleveland. And so we always had that connection, similar roots, and similar past.
And there was enormous warmth. So, not only a professional mentor, but someone who I owe so very, very much to professionally and personally.
I think all of us are so grateful for the opportunity to have seen him do what he did so well. And that's a great treasure. And I just hope as we go forward, our viewers will remember what he added to the political conversation, and how he asked so much not only of us, but of all those seeking office.
And the Russert test was an important one. And the very best. You had to pass it.
OLBERMANN: Kelly, as I was the other person to whom he would have said, "Go get him, K.O."...
OLBERMANN: ... I share that great memory. It's a badge that I will keep with me forever, as I know you will keep yours.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Kelly.
There was -- there are a couple of statements that I must read, and something else from Buffalo.
We already told you that the mayor of the city of Buffalo has ordered flags on city buildings and property to be placed at half staff in Tim Russert's memory as a native of the city. There will be a candlelight vigil held tomorrow at Tim Russert Park in Buffalo at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And that says how that city felt about its native son.
A statement now from Walter Cronkite.
"Broadcast journalism lost one of its greats today. Tim Russert was a giant in our field, a standard bearer of journalistic integrity and ethics. His masterful interviews and roundtable discussions are legendary. This is a tragic loss for journalism and for all who were privileged to know him."
From Walter Cronkite.
And Senator Ted Kennedy has issued a written statement today, engaged, obviously, as you know, in an extraordinary fight for his health and his life.
"Tim Russert was a gentleman and giant, not just in politics and journalism, but in life. And throughout that life, he gave us all a model worth emulating. With a reasoned voice, a sharp mind and a fair hand, Tim took the measure of every Washington official and all those who sought to be one."
"He was a great journalist and an even better friend," Senator Kennedy said. "His passing is a tragic loss for us all, but especially for the family he loved so much. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tim's wife Maureen and his son Luke."
From Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts, who has much to deal with in his own life right now.
As we suggested to you, the sense of loss extends outward from this building and a similar one in Washington D.C., and everywhere else where there is an NBC News person, or an NBC employee. It extends from here into the world of news, into the world of politics, journalism.
Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state during the Clinton administration, has been kind enough to join us now.
Madame Secretary, thank you for your time.
I would love your perspective on the position and the life of Tim Russert and his meaning for this country.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Keith, first of all, I just join everybody in sending condolences, and just stunned to have heard it. I think we were all overwhelmed when the news came through.
Tim was amazing because I can tell you that, as a public official, it was really, first of all, a treat to get on the show. I thought, you know, you wanted to be on "MEET THE PRESS." And then you got nervous, because you knew, I knew, that it would be almost like studying for a test. I think Tim was somebody who was so thorough, and has been said, that he really helped public officials explain their position to the public and the world.
Now, the part that was really hard was that he actually made you debate with yourself, because he would find some quote that you said many, many years before, and he'd put it up there, and you'd think, I couldn't possibly have said this, but then you knew you had. And then he made you really walk through it and, I think, allow you time to give an explanation and to try to explain American policy.
So, it was a rare privilege to be on the show. And then he was just such a nice person.
I think the part that was always funny, he'd come into the green room and be very friendly and nice and talk -- say, "I'm so glad you're coming on the show." And then you'd sit there across from him and he'd ask you these really tough questions. And you'd think, well, I really like you, I want to be on this show, and thank you.
And it was a tough and a fair go. And I honestly, Keith, don't know how we're going to get through the political season without Tim to lead us through, whether it's in the morning or on sometime coming on your show, or whenever, with that board that he had and maps and explanations and stories and the depth of his understanding. This is an amazing loss to all of us. I'm just so, so sad.
OLBERMANN: You touched on something that we've talked about with people on both sides of the interview process all afternoon as this sad news has reverberated, that there were no "gotcha" questions per se coming from Tim Russert. I don't know that that's exactly right.
I think there were "gotcha" questions, but in the best sense of that phrase. That there would be something, as you suggested, that he would find that you had said, or on some occasions even that I said previously, that contradicted or in some way needed further explanation.
But unlike many other venues and too many, I suppose, nowadays, after the "gotcha," came the, all right, now take as much time as you need to explain that.
Is that a fair assessment of that process?
ALBRIGHT: Absolutely. And it wasn't so much that he got you. You got yourself.
ALBRIGHT: And he did give you a chance to say, well, it was a different context, or let me really explain what that word was. And then he really did let you explain it, and sometimes, I have to tell you, I'd sit there and I'd think, aren't you going to stop me, aren't you going to interrupt me? And he really let you go on.
The other part that I loved was that he'd often pair you up with somebody that made for an additional interesting contrast. And so, I have to say, I loved being on the show, I was exhausted when it was over, because he really gave you a workout. And I was listening to some of your reporters say, you know, if you passed the Tim Russert test, you felt you'd made it.
OLBERMANN: I think that's a great and fair statement.
Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state during the Clinton administration, taking a few moments to share her memories of Tim Russert.
ALBRIGHT: Thanks, Keith. Thank you for asking me to come on. Thank you.
We showed you at the top of the hour Kelly O'Donnell's interview with Senator McCain and his recollections, which were warm and generous and human. And he made a joke that only he possibly could about feeling sometimes as if he was back during his last interrogation when going on "MEET THE PRESS," meant, of course, in a warm-hearted manner.
The other presidential candidate has also spoken of his relationship with Tim Russert. Lee Cowan spoke with Senator Barack Obama today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As heartbreaking as this is for all of us, I can only imagine the hole that the people of NBC News feel about Tim. He was the standard bearer for serious journalism. And he also happened to be a great guy who loved his family, who I think expressed the core values of this country as well as anybody has.
And, you know, I consider him not just a journalist, but a friend. A friend who you could count on always asking you the tough questions and not cutting you any slack.
So, you know, to the entire news team at NBC, my heart goes out to you.
It's going to be some big shoes to fill.
And as I said earlier, you know, I hope that everybody in the news business thinks about the standards that he set, and I hope those of us in elected office who are covered by the news think about the standards that he set, because, he taught me to be a better public servant by forcing me to answer questions even when they were uncomfortable. But also, being honest and straight, not trying to play games, not trying to score points just for the sake of it.
He was a great journalist and a great man. And he is going to be sorely missed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Barack Obama touching on a point that many of us have made today, that whatever Tim Russert did, it was in the pursuit of information and truth. It was always to a purpose.
On a personal level, we have mentioned that in Buffalo, flags will be flown at half staff in all city facilities. And there will be a candlelight vigil tomorrow night in that city that Tim Russert came from, never left in any real sense, other than geographical, and will always be a part of the Tim Russert Park named obviously in his honor.
It will be the site of candlelight vigil.
And there are other memorials. We have a shot from Washington from our NBC bureau that may say it all.
This is an impromptu memorial, including the dry erase board, a version of it that Tim made famous, that was, in fact, chosen as one of the 100 most memorable moments in television history. Never mind news coverage or the political season of 2000.
That simplification while chaos reigned around the entire political environment, that was Tim's idea. And he was very proud of it, and he brought it back on several occasions when graphics and maps lit up and did everything but come over and tie your shoes for you.
Tim decided that it would be a lot easier to understand it on that level. And indeed, it was. And so part of the memorial to Tim Russert right now outside the NBC News Washington bureau is a dry erase board with that simple message, "We will miss you," and some flowers.
We'll continue to remember Tim Russert now with -- a great honor to be joined by Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian, American historian, a frequent interviewee of Tim Russert, and someone who could help us try to put his life in perspective.
Can you do that? I mean, is he a national commodity or treasure that we will not soon be able to replace?
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Oh, there's no question, Keith. You know, I think the shock that everybody who knew him is feeling now is a mark of how vibrantly alive he was, how warmed we all who were lucky enough to be his friend felt in his presence.
And when I think about him as a journalist, it seems to me that he had all the human qualities that make a great, gifted athlete a natural. In his case, intelligence and warmth and empathy and curiosity, and the desire to get the story right and find out the truth. But yet, as others have said before, he never stopped working.
I mean, when I would be on his cable show at times, he had these huge notes that he was going through. And almost like he had the ark of the story that he wanted the whole hour to tell that was in his mind and that he could flexibly move if something went out of place. But he also, I think, in some ways, had a lot of the little boy in him.
You know, Eleanor Roosevelt once said that the best men, like Churchill, and her husband, Franklin, had a lot of little boy in them. How true it was for Tim. That boyish enthusiasm for the game, that curiosity, that passion for what he was doing.
He was the best. I will miss him, like all of you, so very much.
OLBERMANN: I'm sure you have some similar moment to this. We -- we had this, I guess, almost every one of these Tuesday nights during this extraordinary primary seasons that just concluded, two Tuesdays ago, where after five or six hours of questions and observations and people yelling and people trying to stop yelling, when it was all over and the rest of us would kind of drag ourselves, hoping that the legs still worked out into the hallway, if Tim was not already there, he would suddenly appear, along with some of our executives and anybody else who happened to be passing by, and we would throw the entire night through, again with him leading the discussion.
And if that somehow exhausted itself after 10 or 20 minutes, he would suddenly turn on me and ask me a baseball question that he had not gotten a chance to do before we went on the air, which was often a thing that he did, too. But there was no limit to his energy.
It amazed me every time I saw it, and to the point of having gotten an e-mail from him about the ratings on Tuesday from Italy, while he was away. There was just no stopping him, I thought.
GOODWIN: Well, I think what happened is the energy came from the people he was with.
What I kept thinking this afternoon was, after hearing about Ted Kennedy's diagnosis, he and I were talking about the fact after all the great things were said about Kennedy on the air that the one silver lining was that Kennedy was almost hearing his obituary in such a fabulous way before he died. And I think about that now, because in a certain sense, Tim didn't need to hear his obituary, because he was hearing it every day from the people who worked with him. Because his greatest -- greatest mark, really, was the mark he left on the people that were around him, all of us who were those lucky enough to know him, to feel that warmth.
There was a contagiousness about him. You left feeling better that you could do your job than you could have done yourself.
And all of you are expressing that with such heartfelt emotion today.
The feelings toward him he must have felt. And I think that's what gave him the energy. That's what keeps people going.
It's almost like a great politician feels it from the crowd. He didn't need the crowd. He just needed that small circle that surrounded him, and then it projected to the country at large.
OLBERMANN: How did he -- and correct me if I'm wrong in this assessment, because some of it is taken from someone who was in the sports field at the time this occurred. But it seems to me that at the time he took over "MEET THE PRESS" in 1991, that that genre of Sunday morning political conversation had become, if not old by any stretch of the imagination -- these were strong franchises and strong institutions in this country on all three of the major networks -- but the advent of cable news was coming up and seemingly going to eclipse what was being done on Sundays. And within a few years, and I think principally led by what Tim was doing, cable was left in the dust.
The Sunday morning shows, and in particular, "MEET THE PRESS," as Bob Schieffer just said in an interview just 20 minutes ago from Paris, the Sunday morning shows set the agenda for political coverage in this country on television, on cable, and in France.
How did he do it?
GOODWIN: I think what it was that he made everyone who came on that show, whether it was the people he was interviewing, or the people like us, who were commenting on the people who were being interviewed, made you feel you wanted to do as good a job as you possible could. I mean, it would take me days to be worried about what I was going to say on "MEET THE PRESS," and not because I was going to be interrogated, but because I wanted to do a good job for him.
Isn't that weird? I mean, it was for him as much as for anything else.
I mean, I'll never forget on his 50th birthday, we put on a surprise for him on "MEET THE PRESS." Right before "MEET THE PRESS," they had me come out of a cake as if I were Marilyn Monroe. And you remember that she, of course, sung to Jack Kennedy, "Happy birthday Mr. Kennedy." And I had to sing, "Happy birthday, Mr. Moderator," with this boa constrictor thing kind of around my neck and a sheath dress on.
And he just laughed and loved it. And I don't know, it's just a very sad thing now.
OLBERMANN: Doris Kearns Goodwin.
And again, we continue to see this phenomenon of memory of the loss of a truly great man that we intertwine tears and laugh and cannot avoid the one or the other.
Thank you, Doris.
GOODWIN: You're welcome, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Cardinal John Patrick Foley not only, I'm sure, had the connection of faith with Tim Russert, as John Meacham described him and Peggy Noonan described him as such, a faithful Catholic, but was also a friend. And the cardinal joins us now.
And I would appreciate your reflections on this man's life and his loss.
CARDINAL JOHN PATRICK FOLEY: Well, I was stunned to hear the news of his death because I had had lunch with him here in Rome only on Tuesday, with him, with his wife, Maureen, and with his son Luke. They were here on -- no, it was Wednesday morning -- or Wednesday, actually, because it was the day of the pope's audience.
So Tim and the family had been at the papal audience, and then came to my office and we went to lunch together. And then I made sure they were able to get up to the Vatican museums to see the Sistine Chapel.
And Tim and I had known one another for the past 24 years when he came over to try to see if they could telecast "The Today Show" from Rome, including from the Vatican on St. Peter's Square. And we were able to arrange that. And then we had worked together on many occasions since then.
Tim was a dynamic newsman, but I think in seeing him since then, that he was the best interviewer on television. He asked, always, very good questions, and he was relentless in pursuing the truth, pursuing the answers to his questions. But he was always respectful toward his guests.
He never badgered them, he never demeaned them. He was a true gentleman, always. And he was living proof that good people can be very good journalists without in any way offending the dignity of the person they were interviewing.
And also, as I heard you say before, Tim was a very fathful Catholic.
He was not ashamed of his faith. He loved his Catholic faith.
He had asked me to baptize his son, Luke, which I did in the private chapel of the late Cardinal John O'Connor of New York. And Tim never attempted to in any way intimidate anybody to share his faith, but he was always proud of his faith, deeply grateful for it, and practiced it regularly.
So, I think he was a very good example of a person who can be a believer and yet be very objective in being a journalist. And his belief contributed to his journalistic excellence.
I found Tim a marvelous human being, an outstanding journalist. As I said already, I think the best interviewer on television.
And my prayers and sympathy go to Maureen and to Luke at this moment. I plan to offer mass here in Rome tomorrow for the repose of Tim's soul and for the spiritual comfort of his family. And in fact, one of the last things Tim did after we had finished lunch, he asked me for a blessing for himself and his family.
A typical action on the part of Tim. And one that now I will never forget.
OLBERMANN: And we will never forget your recollections of it, sir.
Cardinal John Patrick Foley joining us by phone from Italy.
And we thank you kindly, sir.
FOLEY: Thank you very much. God bless you.
OLBERMANN: We have, in the NBC News family, had many occasions -- I believe Andrea Mitchell was talking about them many hours ago -- many occasions of sadness in which a beloved, truly beloved figure, colleague, inspiration to many of us, associate to all of us, friend to all of us, has left us suddenly. This occasion, with the passing of Tim Russert, has necessarily evoked memories of that day in April of 2003 when we lost David Bloom, who was the -- at that point, co-host of the weekend "Today Show" and had been a superb, definitional White House correspondent for NBC News, and tireless, and a friend to all here.
His wife Melanie Bloom is joining us now.
And I know this must evoke many sad memories, but if you can give us a sense of Tim Russert's role in your life, both before and after that tragedy, maybe it will help us get through this one.
MELANIE BLOOM, WIDOW OF DAVID BLOOM: Yes. Hello, Keith.
Heartbreaking, heartbreaking news today. And certainly, a flood of memories rush back about what happened with David five years ago.
Tim was amazing. And we got to know tim when David was working as a White House correspondent. And Tim was a true mentor to David. David had nothing but admiration to him.
He was an intellectual giant, and he was even a bigger and better person, larger than life, warm, funny, just absolutely beloved by all.
And this is extremely difficult.
I can certainly empathize with what Maureen and Luke are feeling, to lose someone, and to lose someone so abruptly. It's terribly and deeply hurtful for them. And my heart, my thoughts and prayers, are with them.
When we lost David, Tim was there to comfort our girls and me. And over these years, he has just continually reached out, embraced us as part of the NBC family.
And in fact, I just spent a few minutes with him at the correspondents dinner in D.C. He's always so warm and just wonderful. And the human side of Tim is what I will hold on to, and it's a huge loss in the journalistic world. But, just to lose his soul and his heart and his passion is extremely painful and a tremendous loss.
OLBERMANN: Melanie, you saw that person under circumstances that the rest of us would not have, could not have. The -- the man on the air always struck me as almost no different from the man off the air. What was your perspective on that? That things are often so different in television, as you well know. There can be a performance on the part of somebody on television that does not reflect their personality.
OLBERMANN: How close was the Tim Russert you knew in those trying times to the Tim Russert we knew on television?
BLOOM: He was one and the same. He was not a person to turn it on for television. He could not have been more genuine, more earnest. And I experienced him as that same intelligent, thoughtful, insightful, curious person and just heart, the warmth.
There's a funny anecdote I can share. After David and I had our youngest daughter, Ava, and when she reached toddler age, whenever Tim Russert's face would come on the TV, she would be delighted and sort of toddle over to the TV and put her hands on it and give him a kiss. And David and I were just rolling with laughter. And David shared that story with Tim and talked about how animals and children really can sense the goodness in people.
And it was a funny little joke. And Tim got such a kick out of it, that even little children seeing his face fill the screen with sparkling eyes and, you know, the passion and the joy that he brought every broadcast and every interview that he did. So I'm just pleased that people know this about him and will continue to just remember him in this way.
OLBERMANN: Fifty-eight is so -- so young for a man so vital. I'm not telling you something that you don't know from your own experience, much younger age, that this is true as well.
But I guess I'm reaching to try to understand if you would agree with this, from what -- from your experience from him, from your interactions in two different eras in your life. I'm wondering, he must have used every second of that 58 years the way we all -- the rest of us all dream of being able to use our lives to their fullest.
BLOOM: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, he lived many, many years in those 58 years. Like you say, more than a lot of us who don't have that energy level and that ability to just live so fully and so thoroughly and with such zeal and passion and zest.
I've been enjoying so much watching him covering this political election and knowing -- you can see the twinkle in his eye when he's speaking. You know, he just lives for this. And to have it happen, like you say, at such a young age, at 58, and the day before Father's Day and before the election, it's just cruel. It's a cruel twist of fate.
We can take comfort in knowing that he'll probably know, along with David, who will be elected long before anybody else, from their perspective. Hopefully, that's some comfort. But...
OLBERMANN: Melanie Bloom, I understand. We all feel as we did five years ago and more. Our continuing condolences. We will not forget Tim Russert, and we certainly have never forgotten David Bloom, nor will we here. All our best to you.
BLOOM: Keith, thank you so much.
OLBERMANN: We've been telling you about the reaction in the city of Buffalo. There are now some pictures from Buffalo that we want to show you. Mayor Byron W. Brown issued this statement this afternoon, and I'm going to read it in full this time.
"On behalf of the residents of Buffalo, New York, I express our shared sadness and shock at the news of Tim Russert's death. An accomplished journalist who gained his experience in the world of government and politics, Tim Russert rose to become the premiere political journalist of his generation."
The mayor continued, "But more than his professional accomplishments, Tim Russert cherished his family, friends and hometown. He never forgot his roots in south Buffalo. He often reminded his television audience and guests of his strong affection for Buffalo, particularly his beloved Buffalo Bills. He was truly our city's greatest ambassador. And he was loved by everyone in Buffalo and Western New York. My thoughts and prayers are with his family. Tim Russert will always be remembered for his passion, hard work, honesty and dedication to his family."
And then the mayor closed by saying what you just saw. "To honor Tim Russert's memory, I have ordered that all flags on city property be lowered immediately to half staff. An extraordinary public, civic memorial to a figure who was, indeed, public and whose interests were, indeed, civic, who was not of elected office, and yet was as important to that city and to the people in this building as possibly could be described."
Let's turn again to Eugene Robinson, columnist, associate editor of "The Washington Post" and our frequent guest here, with us on these Tuesday nights of the political primary season.
Gene, I'm trying to -- since 4 p.m. this afternoon, I've been trying to put my -- my hands around this idea of Tim Russert's role, not just in television, not just in the lives of everybody here, but in this country. Do you have any clearer thoughts on it now? Because it seems to be getting away from me.
EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSOCIATED EDITOR/COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it's gotten away from all of us.
He was -- he was certainly an honest broker. I think everyone in politics and government felt that he gave them an honest hearing on "MEET THE PRESS." He was -- he was interested in everything. And -- but, most of all, he was interested in hearing what candidates really stood for, what officials really were doing, what journalists really had learned.
You know, he was tough not only on politicians, but on journalists who appeared on his show on "MEET THE PRESS." He wouldn't let you get away with equivocation or waffling or anything mushy like that. He'd ask a follow-up question and want to -- want to pin down on exactly what you were saying.
It was -- it was really -- "MEET THE PRESS" was really a unique venue under Tim, and -- and he was a unique figure in this city and, thus, in the political life of the nation. That's not an exaggeration. Because that's -- that's the company industry. That's the industry here. It's a company town, and the company is government politics. And Tim was an important -- he was kind of a nexus through which currents flowed, necessarily almost.
As he always said, Sunday's "MEET THE PRESS," you couldn't imagine a Sunday without "MEET THE PRESS." You couldn't imagine a Sunday without learning something on "MEET THE PRESS," without -- without someone's either personality or position, some important figure's personality of position being elucidated somehow for you, not only for you, but for, reliably, four million viewers.
It was an extraordinary achievement, not just to inherit, of course, the tradition of "MEET THE PRESS," but to -- but to bring it to the status and to maintain it over such time.
And the other thing, of course, is I'm not certain that many viewers understand that -- that Tim really had two enormous jobs. He was not only the moderator of "MEET THE PRESS," which in and of itself, would be a full-time job for most people. He was an executive of NBC News, who ran the Washington bureau as a boss, who hired, who fired. You've heard so many correspondents say that he was a mentor, who encouraged them, who shepherded their careers and did all the things a busy executive has to do.
How he found the time and energy to do all of that has always escaped me and -- and will continue to escape me as we try to deal with his almost unimaginable passing.
OLBERMANN: I'm not going to say that this was absolutely 100 percent standard operating procedure in the Washington bureau, but I guess it was the Reagan funeral. And I came down to do my show from there for a couple of days. And it was the first time I'd been back to the Washington bureau, I believe, since 1998.
And the point of getting -- trying to decide where I should be working, Tim was the one who said, "Come in here." He was the one who decided which of the extra offices the visiting guy filled. And again, I don't know that that was necessarily done -- I don't think he was -- he bought the pencils for the place, by any stretch of the imagination. I don't want to insinuate he did.
ROBINSON: Then five minutes -- right, and then five minutes later, he was, you know -- he was probably talking to a correspondent about what question they were going to ask the president in a -- you know, in a news conference or something like that. He was able to switch from subject to subject in an amazing way.
You know, the other side of -- you know, we're talking about Tim and Washington and what he meant to Washington. The "Post" had a long time, very well-known TV columnist named Jack Carmandy (ph) who wrote about TV for years and years and years and was well-known to everyone in the industry.
When Jack Carmandy (ph) died, at his memorial, a small church near "The Washington Post" was treated to an extraordinary spectacle: the three major anchors of the time, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and Peter Jennings, all there to pay their tributes. A friend of mine reminded me this afternoon that it was Tim Russert who arranged that, who -- not that they all wouldn't have come, and made their schedules work out. But Tim is the one who picked up the phone and said, "Come on. It's for Carmandy (ph). You've got to come down." And that's -- that's Tim.
OLBERMANN: That's Tim.
Pat Buchanan, MSNBC political commentator and analyst, is with us again.
I got an e-mail from Howard Fineman, which I think just sums this up.
That the worst part of all this is the only person capable of really putting this story in context would have been Tim Russert.
BUCHANAN: That's exactly right. Tim Russert was a fellow who never forgot who he was or where he came from. He was Irish, ethnic, Catholic, working class stock; he was Buffalo. He was not only proud of where he came from; he loved it.
He always, when you'd talk with him, those of us who have come from similar backgrounds, the stories of the nuns and the same kinds of stories of the priests, we've all got them. He was into it, and he loved it enormously.
You know, he told me one time, given his background, that when he went to work for Pat Moynihan, whom he could imitate and who he just sort of adored. He had these wonderful stories about Moynihan. And he said Moynihan called him in one day and closed the door.
And Russert said, you know, Tim said he wondered what he was doing with this great intellectual, Moynihan, there, who had all these guys there with their Ivy League Ph.D.'s, the policy wonks, and they were all over the office. And he called him in, and he said to him -- he said, "Tim, I know and I need what those guys know, but they don't know what you know."
And he was immensely proud of that, the idea that he brought something to the table that very few others could, because of where he came from.
And I got a sense that the joy of Tim Russert was, in part, from a sense of amazement and astonishment that here he was, the premiere journalist in television interviewing in the country, and he had come from these roots and he's come so far.
And I think, you know, Tim felt a debt of gratitude. That's why we're hearing these stories about the priests and the others. A debt of gratitude to those who gave him what he had. And what enabled him, with his energy and his natural drive to go as far as he did and to do the things he did.
He would bring up often, the fact that he had met the pope. He had spoken to John Paul II. He was enormously proud of that.
So I think that -- I mean, he was really shaped by the time and place he came from and the people, the family, his dad. And all the rest of it. And he never turned his back on him. He was proud of him. And he carried the flag for all of them, I think. And he felt that he was representing all of them, and he did a magnificent job of it.
OLBERMANN: And this is not, Pat, to -- to portray him as some -- I don't know -- street tough.
BUCHANAN: No, he's not.
OLBERMANN: Or Mr. Middle America or anything like this. This is because -- it was -- his was as sharp an intellect as I've ever seen.
And one of those people who just scares you, he's so smart. And the combination, the juxtaposition of those two things, even that I think, I suppose that's the conclusion. That's where lay his greatness.
BUCHANAN: Yes, Keith, I was -- as I said, I was with him up there. We had wonderful times, frankly. And I will remember them when all these Tuesday nights, we'd come up there. And he bats fourth for us on all these primaries and this great -- these really enjoyable session that he loved so much.
But I would sit, with him -- it was in the '90s, and I would come on the show. And as I said, he prepared and he studied. And he would ask you a question and then you would -- you knew you had a certain amount of time. He would not interrupt you. And you did your answer. And then you could see his head was sort of shaking a little bit. His body would shake a little bit. And then he'd say, "That's what you believe?
That's what you believe, Pat? Let's look at what you said November 18, 1993, on the subject."
And down the screen would come, and he'd start reading it. And I'd just remember, I said, "Are we going to go into all the golden oldies here?"
But he was -- people have talked about it with -- when you are going on "MEET THE PRESS," you are going into Yankees stadium and you are going up against an all-star pitcher. And we knew he was the best at that.
If you came off from that well, you'd come out and call -- call home.
Because you knew it. And you prepared for that harder than you prepared for anything else, any -- almost any other interview you could name. He was really -- ever so classy (ph).
OLBERMANN: Doris Kearns Goodwin is still with us, along with Eugene Robinson, who you heard chuckling there, because he was through it, as was Pat.
Well, that may be what you say now, but, Doris, I'm trying to get some perspective of Tim Russert's place in journalistic history. Obviously, journalism reinvents itself in terms of technology and what is in and what is out, maybe every 10 years now, certainly, every 50 years. You can't compare Richard Harding Davis to Tim Russert. It's more than apples and oranges.
But this role of kind of -- the phrase that's been used, again, throughout the afternoon, the honest broker, at a time when that's a scarcity, how -- how does he -- how does he place, if you're putting together the all-time list?
GOODWIN: I think he'll be right at the top. You know, there'd be so many times when I'd be giving lectures, even, in academic institutions, and one of the question would be what is Tim Russert like? And I would say he's the absolute best, and suddenly, the audience would erupt in applaud. I mean, just as all the people within the family are talking about him as a friend and even as the people who are politicians who were interrogated by him, felt that he was a friend, I think the country did, too.
And when you think about how many huge elections he has been the main voice on, that people felt connected to the larger issue through him.
We may even be too close to it now to see the impact that he's had on our time. It may take some years to realize hat this was, in some ways, you know, a decade of Tim Russert.
I'll never forget in 2000, in that never-ending election, just being on late at night. And we had to keep coming up with stories, because there was no -- no more news to cover. And he kept asking me. He knew so much history. So he's say, "Tell me about Rutherford B. Hayes. You know, tell me about John Quincy Adams, also presidents who had had that gap between electoral and popular history."
And finally, I remember, like at 2 or 3 in the morning, I said, "I don't have anymore stories to tell. It's over."
But I think he was a very large figure and precisely because he could make people that he interviewed feel that they'd been given a tough time, that he'd been fair, but that he was never trying to hurt them.
There wasn't a mean bone in this man's body. There was just that love of what he was doing, which meant that as a journalist, you wanted to get them to tell the truth. He hated it when people didn't tell the truth. And that's got to be a standard of journalism. But yet, not with any malice.
He had those human qualities that I think we could all look at -- I just, not too long ago, in fact, not a few days ago, he talked about how now that we had the two contenders for the nomination set, he wanted to go back to something we had been talking about during the spring, to change the level of the coverage of the campaigns from every week, who said what, who made a mistake, who made a gaffe, to what are the leadership qualities that we should be looking for in these two candidates, because we know what made great leaders in the past. He knows that. He loved history. And we should be looking at that list of leadership qualities and judging both Obama and McCain against them by looking at their past, looking at the way they conducted their campaigns.
And he was so excited at the thought that we could begin to think which ones are going to be able to surround themselves with diverse people, which ones are going to be able to acknowledge errors and learn from their mistakes, which one -- which one of them could communicate with the country. You know, which one of them has these various qualities of empathy and sharing credit that he also understood was so important.
In a bizarre way, he had many of those qualities. I often teased him:
"Why don't you go run for something. Go run for the Senate."
But he said, "This is my love. There's nowhere else I'd rather be."
OLBERMANN: It's going to be, whether or not this seems impossible, late on Friday afternoon, early on Friday evening, it's going to be Sunday, this Sunday, one way or the other. How is it going to be "MEET THE PRESS"? How does it -- how does the institution go on without somebody who reshaped it and was such a central figure in American politics?
GOODWIN: I can't even imagine that. I mean, this was the love. I mean, obviously, as people have said, he also was the head of NBC News, and he was terrific at that job.
But when he -- I mean, he told me, not too long ago -- I said to him, "Do you ever get nervous still when you're doing this?"
He said, "Oh, my God, do I. On Saturday nights I can barely know what I'm going to do. I can't go anywhere. I've got to think about this."
And so the whole rhythm of his life was around that show, and the rhythm of the country's life was around that show.
So I don't know what they're going to do, but somehow, I'm sure this Sunday there will be a tribute to him. And that will be the beginning of people realizing that he's not there.
The weird thing, too, obviously, when somebody like him is so much on camera, just as it was for the Kennedy family. When they died, we saw those pictures over and over again. We keep seeing him now. We're seeing it right now, and it makes it even harder to realize that he's no longer alive. It's almost impossible.
OLBERMANN: I'm -- I'm thinking about that perspective that was unique to him and unique to his work. And you mentioned filling that time with the stories of what happened with Rutherford B. Hayes came up in our conversations and the entirety of the brokered election of 1876 on the last primary night. And I could see it in his eyes. When I mentioned Tildon, the eyes lit up. That perception. And perhaps, you of all people we talked to today would know this better than anybody else.
This sense of continuity, that you were trying to tell the story, not just of American politics, as if perceived for the last 24 hours of the last 24 weeks of the last 24 years, but the whole thing. And here's the whole thing. Here's what we need to know from 100 years ago to understand what's happening today. Here's what we need to know from 10 years ago to understand what -- what is happening today. That -- that is almost, almost gone from American political coverage, but I don't think that ever left Tim.
GOODWIN: Now, I think inside himself, he truly was an historian. And he was so proud that his son Luke was majoring in history and loved history. And I think to make a great journalist, you're really so right. There's so much that's present today that so many journalists today don't know about, you know, 50 years ago, 20 years ago. They don't have time. They don't have time to think about it.
But this was Tim's original love. And you could tell when you talked to him that history was there. And that's why it was such an honor for me to become his friend. Because he loved to talk about the past. You know, we'd sit there sometimes, talking about FDR or talking about Truman or talking about Teddy Roosevelt.
And -- and he knew so much. There were times when I'd be on his show to talk about a book that I had written, and it was embarrassing, because he asked me a question about my own book that I didn't even remember, having written it five years earlier.
OLBERMANN: I'll throw that one at Pat Buchanan. Did he ever -- did he ever stump you on something? Did he ever know anything about -- about you or about your experiences, the people you work with that you didn't know, Pat?
BUCHANAN: Well, I'll tell you, Keith. I don't know that that was exactly it. But when you're talking about this -- what's going to happen to the program, you know, I think I recall -- and I might be wrong about this -- that when Jefferson became the ambassador to France, the French asked him, "Are you here to replace Doctor Franklin?"
And he said, "I'm here to succeed Dr. Franklin. No one can really replace him."
I think the show, "MEET THE PRESS," that Tim Russert did is -- cannot be the same again. It will not be the same, because he put his mark upon it. He made it his. He moved it beyond where it had been. And it is -- it is permanently identified, I think, in these two decades with Tim Russert. And I don't think we're going to be able to -- I think probably, it's going to be somewhat -- it's going to be different. It simply will not be the same without him.
Every Sunday, I mean, you'd have millions and millions of Americans see it. They see it repeated. Monday morning, they read about who was on "MEET THE PRESS." They look at the panels he had and the interviews he had. Everyone looked forward to it as the big battle of the weekend or the big issue of the weekend, the big story of the weekend, the major candidate of the weekend, the major person and they are always right there. And Tim is sitting right beside them and then he's dropping the screen.
And it's just -- it's part of the furniture of our lives, "MEET THE PRESS" was for the last few decades. And it is -- I just don't know how it will be the same again.
OLBERMANN: How will -- how will what we need to know about this election campaign -- we can talk about how many sadnesses are contained within the major one, the loss of our friend and our leader here. But the -- the idea that this happened, obviously, on Friday of Father's Day weekend is heart breaking, in and of itself. For, as so many others more eloquent than I have pointed out, his relationship with his father and his relationship with his son, Luke.
But on top of this, we finally get through this extraordinary primary season, and we lose Tim Russert. What are we not going to find out?
How are we going to fill -- what kind of vacuum -- let's put it that way. What kind of vacuum do we have to fill in terms of the information needed to make the correct choice, whatever people might think that might be, in November? What -- what does that gap look like and how do we fill it?
BUCHANAN: I don't know how we fill it. I honestly don't, Keith. The gap is huge. It's not only every Sunday that he's there and he's asking the right questions. And as I say, it is the major issue or concern of the week.
I've been on Tim's show at times where he would call on a Friday, say, "Pat, you were set for Sunday, but the big, breaking news has hit.
We'll give you time next week. We've got to deal with this."
So he dealt with the No. 1 story of the week, and he advanced it into the new week. Everyone looked to that. I don't know how you can fill that between now and November.
And what he did such a fine job of, Keith, is when we were up there, is when we asked him questions, you'd talk to him, he raises the questions that really ought to be raised that a lot of folks have not yet raised, and what about this, and how are they -- how is he going forward? And how is he or she going to deal with that issue? As a commentator, as an analyst, an analyst mainly, but as an interviewer, and as someone who held the major -- the major spot of the week. And that show was No. 1, quite frankly, in the political season. We're just going to be without it, I'm afraid.
OLBERMANN: Our coverage is going to continue throughout the night, just to -- just to keep everybody updated on where we're going on this.
My seat here is going to be filled by Andrea Mitchell at the top of the hour.
So I want to give our two guests at the moment a simple set-up to give us a final thought on -- on Tim Russert, his place, their friendship.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, you can give me about a minute or so, if you would, on Tim Russert, if such limitations are acceptable.
GOODWIN: I think for any of us who were fortunate enough to be his friend, and I include lots of people who watched him on television.
It's the mark of how vibrantly alive he was, how he warmed all of us in his presence that makes it hard to imagine a world without him.
People will miss him in a visceral, emotional way. I was more emotional than I even imagined I would be when I first heard this news.
And I think that's joined by thousands who knew him well and by people all around the country. This man will be so very missed.
OLBERMANN: Pat Buchanan, your final thoughts.
BUCHANAN: Because of who he was and where he came from and the things that shaped him and the institutions, many of them are gone now. They are not what they were. We are in a brand-new era. We're not in the 1950s where -- where Tim Russert grew up or in the '60s where he matured into a man.
And how he reflected -- what produced him in the way of schools and church and family and faith as it was in those times and days. I don't think we're going to see his like again. Because he was unique. He was fully (ph) generous. And he came out of, as I say, an era and a time and a place that are sort of vanishing. Maybe it's a better era we're in now.
But there's a lot of us who loved that old era. And when you talked -- when I talked to Tim Russert or met with him, there was a camaraderie there that went back, way back when, when we were living miles apart.
But it was the same sort of experience.
We're not going to see his like again, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Pat Buchanan, my great thanks to you.
Dorothy Kearns Goodwin, my great thanks to you on this sad day. Thanks for sharing with us. Thanks for helping me get through it.
Barbara Walters was on, I guess not two hours ago, talking about this loss being as keen as that of a leading political figure in our nation.
And I think that really does sort of sum it up.
Bob Schieffer, his friend and rival, the host of "Face the Nation" on CBS, is saying that it really was -- Tim Russert was so good at what he did and so good as a person that you didn't really expect to do that much in competition against him and were very proud when you did.
I will just say, in conclusion -- and we'll bring you a special edition of "COUNTDOWN" at 8 p.m. Eastern Time -- that I've had a lot of experiences in broadcasting, but I don't remember anything that has ever moved me to the degree of pride and almost childish joy as having asked Tim Russert, maybe once a week, something on those Tuesday nights and having him say, "Great question, Keith." No greater compliment ever.
Tim Russert, go get them.
Andrea Mitchell picks up our coverage now -- Andrea.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Keith Olbermann, on this saddest of days for the NBC News family and for people around the country and indeed around the world, for all of those who watch “Meet the Press,” who watch “NBC Nightly News” and MSNBC. This is our special continuing coverage of the passing of Tim, Timothy J. Russert. I’m here, joined with legions of his friends, those who are here in the immediate area and those overseas and those joining us from around the world. But, first, to his closest and dearest friend, Albert Hunt of Bloomberg News. Al Hunt, you and Tim have worked the political world in Washington together jointly and singly for so many years. Tell us the singular facts about Tim Russert.
AL HUNT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: He cared deeply. He was a great patriot. And he was the most devoted journalist I have ever known, Andrea. I have been at it longer than Tim. I started earlier. And yet every time I was around him, as recently as last week, I learned from him.
MITCHELL: And when Tim Russert on May 6 said that this primary contest was over, it was picked up by every campaign. People, in writing the aftermath of the campaigns, told “The New York Times,” told “The Washington Post,” told “Newsweek” and “TIME” magazine that we knew, we, the campaign people, knew that it was over when Tim Russert declared it over.
HUNT: More important than the delegate counts, more important than the outcome that evening was Tim Russert saying it was over, because Tim Russert wouldn’t say that unless it was thoughtful, measured, well-reported, because that’s everything he did.
MITCHELL: In all of these transformations in our profession, he bridged all of these divides. He was on cable. He was on the Internet. He was doing the Web extras on “Meet the Press.” He transformed “Meet the Press” when he took it over 17-and-a-half years ago. He transformed this bureau when he came here 20 years ago, as many of us know. But there’s a personal side. And before I let you go, I wanted to ask you about Jeffrey, Jeffrey Woodruff Hunt, your son, and the effect on your lives of Tim’s friendship.
HUNT: Our son was injured in an accident 10 years ago. And he had brain surgery. And one of the first people there was Tim Russert. And he brought him a hat, because he said, he had brain surgery. He’s going to need a hat. And he started a hat. And every place Tim went, he would sent Jeffrey a hat. He would always call him. Tom Brokaw now sends Jeffrey a hat. Jeffrey this afternoon called me in tears, because he talked to Tim all the time. Tim cared. Tim never lost contact with him. That’s why he was such a devoted friend. He was so special. There was such an extra dimension about Tim. I will tell one professional story quickly, Andrea. No one believes this, but, truthfully, I went—and I guess it was in the late ‘80s—and Tim and I had lunch one time. And I was trying to talk him into going on air. Tim in the beginning resisted going on air because he thought his role was being an executive. And you couldn’t do both.
MITCHELL: He said he had a face made for radio.
HUNT: And he ended up being the best on-air that Washington television has ever seen and the best political journalist in America.
MITCHELL: And coming from one of the same. Thank you. Our condolences to al Hunt and Judy Woodruff and the family. And now Chris Matthews, who is traveling tonight and joins us by phone from Paris.
Chris, Tim was a mentor to all of us. We all learned from him all the time.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”: Well, you know, it’s true. And I’m just—I’m just absorbing all this now. And, you know, I just can’t believe it. I guess that’s the simple answer. I have to absorb this into the—Tim is so big in the world. He is everything Al Hunt said he is. And Al was very close to him, I know. And everything he is, his instinctive understanding of human beings on every level, his ability to get to the heart of something so immediately, so instantly, so—just, it’s who he was. He knew—he knew life. He knew us. He knew how people are. How can I—I mean, he was—it sounds big, but he was a philosopher. He understood us instantly. And he knew the world he was in. And he tried to report it every day. And when he came to any job he had, whether it was working for Senator Moynihan or it was working with NBC News, the life of the work he did exploded with life. It just got bigger than—because he was there. It wasn’t like he filled a role. It was existential. Tim Russert is here. Tim Russert is doing the job. Tim Russert is sitting next to me. He’s about to come on the air. And I think everything Al said is right. And Al is one of the best journalists ever in Washington. And I think he’s—that when he said everybody forgets this. When he said that this election nomination fight was at a conclusion because of the mathematic reality, it’s exactly what he said back in ‘92. Even when he was much younger, he was able to make these calls. And the power of the call this time of course was bigger because of all he’s accomplished since. It’s so basic, what Tim Russert was. It wasn’t like he was the best. He was just Tim Russert.
MATTHEWS: And I have a lot of background in common with him. And I still don’t know how he figures out all that he has figured out, how he knows so much. And I think back to our old mutual friend Kirk O’Donnell, who passed from us just as quickly in that same way. And I think of how he had that same—and Al knew him so well, too—that quality of instant understanding of the human condition and sharing it immediately, as a reporter must. You can’t say anything bigger than that about a wonderful guy that he gave everything he had. And when he walked into a room, Tim Russert was there. That was different than everybody else walking in the room, I have got to tell you, because I would be there watching him. And I was in awe of him. He was not just my role model. He was the gold standard in everything he did.
MITCHELL: Chris Matthews, standing by now in Boston is Jack Welch, the former chairman of GE, and mentor to Tim, and the person who’s probably responsible, more than anyone else, for Tim’s success, for expanding “Meet the Press” to a full hour, for making it possible for Tim to revolutionize Sunday morning television. Jack.
JACK WELCH, FORMER CHAIRMAN & CEO, GENERAL ELECTRIC: Hello, Andrea. This is one tough night.
MITCHELL: You know, Jack, I know that Tim was such a good friend to you. And you shared time in Nantucket, time in politics, all the political coverage, all of the fun and the jokes that you have told. And the fact that he was such a good citizen, such a family man, and such a corporate citizen, he brought so much to NBC News and so much to General Electric, as well, as someone who really did understood what it was to recruit and train and bring along all of the people that he brought through this business. It’s an immeasurable loss, but maybe you can share some of your personal experiences with Tim.
WELCH: I can, Maria—I mean, I can, Andrea. You know, I want to give you credit. I heard you this afternoon mentioning Michael Gardner (ph). And I thank you for that, because Michael Gardner is the true hero of getting Tim Russert on, on air. He pushed for it. He made it happen. And we all road the coattails of that decision by Michael Gardner and his courage to do it. But, tonight, there are—there are hundreds of thousands of GE people, retirees and others. I have gotten more mail than I have ever received in a day since 3:00 or 3:30. And everybody felt they were Tim’s best friend. And everybody in GE and I think NBC News was so proud to be associated with him. Andrea, he—he touched us all. We all felt he was our friend. He represented us. We were proud of him. We loved him. I mean, we really loved him. And I got one story, if I can tell it.
MITCHELL: Please do.
WELCH: And it happened in the last several weeks. I called Tim, because Suzy and I running—we run a charity in Boston for Health Care for the Homeless. And I’m, as you know, long retired. And I called him and I said, Tim, I need a speaker. I need you to come do this. And he didn’t say, let me look at my calender. Let me see if I’m busy. I’m told him the cause. He said, where and when? And then, about a month later, when he came, he drove a truck from Washington Monday morning to Boston Monday night to give the truck to Luke, so he could have it to pack his truck from graduation. Then, he came to the homeless dinner, after driving, I don’t know, 12 hours, whatever the ride is, and came and gave one of the most stirring speeches imaginable, tears all over the room, people - standing ovation.
And then we tried to get him to stay. Barnicle and I tried to ask him to stay, so he wouldn’t go back. He was exhausted. And he said, look, I have got a meeting in the morning back in Washington. I have got to go. And if you think about it, that one day captures so much of Tim, is family, bringing the truck, his giving back, that wonderful speech nd his passion for work. He had to get back. his is a day that’s jolted me like only a handful in my life. And I’m sure I—I’m speaking not as a current chairman of GE, but as an old guy that absolutely loved him and represented thousands of people that loved him also.
MITCHELL: Thank you, Jack Welch. I know this is hard on you, that you had a very special relationship with Tim, as did everyone here. I just wanted to share also with all of you and our viewers, Mario Cuomo—Mario Cuomo was a very important mentor to Tim Russert. The Cuomos have issued a statement, saying that they were privileged to have known Tim for more than 25 years, that they were shocked and saddened by his sudden death while at work at the peak of his career. And, boy, that is true. “Our hearts go out to Maureen, Luke, and the entire Russert Family. America has lost a vital source of information, analysis and wisdom when we need it most. Tim’s extraordinary success was more than enough to earn him respect, but he added to that a genuineness as a human being that made him as easy to like as he was to admire. The son of a hardworking sanitation worker in Buffalo, New York, a middle-class, polyglot, multiethnic community, where people worked hard, went to church or synagogue, loved a good meal, and a good ball game even more. He was reverential regarding his father, devoted to his family”— this the statement from Mario Cuomo and his wife, the loss of Tim Russert.
I’m joined here by David Gregory.
David, those of us in the bureau knew Tim in a lot of ways, reverential and irreverent. He taught us. He guided us. He chewed us out, when he had to. But this is also a huge loss politically on the American landscape, because of what he brought to Sunday morning and what he brought to the rigorous examination of political credentials.
DAVID GREGORY, HOST, “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE”: I think that’s right. I mean, I think what Jack just talked about is just evidence of the fact that Tim was an authentic guy. And that’s why he connected. You know, in politics, you talk about these candidates, do they connect with voters? Well, as a journalist, as someone who was an important arbiter of political discourse in this country, Tim connected, because he was an authentic guy without pretense. He was a very successful guy, made a lot of money, had all of the trappings of success, but was not motivated, was not defined by that success, and just the opposite. I think some people who have reflected on him—and, in fact, the story that Jack tells is evidence of the fact that Tim Russert was a spiritual man. There’s a rabbi, Dr. Abraham Twerski, who writes an important part of being a spiritual person is living a life of gratitude.
And Tim Russert was so grateful for this life he was living. He was grateful for a wife who he loved. He was grateful for the son who lit up his life. He was grateful for a father who taught him values, who gave him a sense of direction in life, who he was blessed to have in his in his father’s older age. And he was grateful for this job that was sort of ridiculous how fun it was for him, having come out of the political world and then to be the figure that he became. And he did it just through sheer hard work and skill. And he was grateful for it. And I was talking on “Nightly News” tonight about Cardinal McCarrick, who led us in prayer tonight, and who said, Tim has gone home, just to repeat the line, but none of us can imagine that he would ever leave work early. And he was really in his element. He would tell people that this was his Super Bowl, that this presidential campaign, this primary season was his Super Bowl. And he was living in the moment. He was Eli Manning. He made the important plays. He was a superstar in this business. And that’s what everybody knows. And that’s what the political world knows. And what we do in talking about him in such an open way is to help people understand that, as great as he was in those ways that Americans can appreciate by watching him on “Meet the Press” and other places, is understand his humanity as well.
MITCHELL: You know, when you talk about his humanity, David, I remember Tim at my wedding, and how much fun, and how important it was, how meaningful it was to us for him to be there. And he was actually leading the cheers when we finally said our “I do”s. He was irreverent in the extreme, in fact.
MITCHELL: But when we—you were talking earlier about your children. And Jon Meacham was reflecting on the birth of his child a few months ago. He was always the first to call or arrive with a gift, with a call in times good and bad. And, always, it was about the children.
GREGORY: Yes. He—he would really—this is not a cocktail party guy. Tim didn’t love the cocktail parties. But, if you brought kids around, then he would light up. And he would immediately want to hold your child. And I remember, when my children were born, he got—well, when the twins were born, he got them these pillows with their names on them and the date of their birth. And they love these pillows. This was his signature gift that he loved so much. And he loved to be at the ballpark for baseball with my oldest. And he loved—this one story, where my—the catcher threw my son a ball when he was 3 years old, and my son threw it back. And Tim always told that story to people. He couldn’t believe that my son would throw it back. And we were both looking at each other, so shocked.
But just Tim had so much room in his heart for those expressions, because it was an expression of the dad he was. And here we are, a couple of days before Father’s Day. And I just don’t have any question in my mind about the fact that, as important as Tim Russert is and was to Americans because of his contributions as a journalist and his contributions in the political world as a journalist, what he cares most about, and what he will reflect on in wherever he is now is the values of his father, the joy of his father, and the joy of his fatherhood, being a father. That’s it. I mean, it can be quaint to say it. But I’m just telling you— and you know it as well as I do—that’s what defined this guy. That picture defines this guy. Yes, he has got the awards. He has got the accolades. He had all the trappings of success. But those were the definitions.
MITCHELL: And the role he played with some singular people in this town, with Daniel Patrick Moynihan—not only could he imitate the unusual inflection of Senator Moynihan’s voice, but he was his right-hand man.
MITCHELL: And he was also a family—part of the extended family to Liz Moynihan, and all the dynamics of New York State politics, which brought him, of course, to Capitol Hill as a Senate aide, and, in those years, learning the Senate, learning the Hill, and then made that transformation.
And he made it not without some criticism, because he was one of the first to come from the world of politics into the world of journalism.
But he made it so completely. He said, there was never any turning back. And he made such a clean break that he would interrogate some of his former colleagues.
GREGORY: Right. He tells us a story about—I forget what the event was. He was on “Imus” talking about this a few years ago, and where there was some event where both Daniel Patrick Moynihan and his father, Big Russ. And Tim would get emotional talking about it. He said, because, to see the two of them, my father and my intellectual father together, is—was still so poignant to him. And he tells the story about Senator Moynihan, the late Senator Moynihan, that, when Tim felt kind of unsettled—there were some other aides who worked for Moynihan who had Ivy League degrees, and they were very experienced. And Moynihan said to them, what they know, you can learn. What you know, they will never learn.
It’s that authenticity. And it’s what Tim brought to his profession. And I think it’s what he—what he helped to teach people like us on a daily basis, when we were able to confer with him. And you said it really well earlier, I mean, the idea of the sort of player-manager. He was that. He was a big deal in his own right, a television figure in his own right. But he was a leader to us. And, substantively, he provided that leadership, where you would talk to him about a story and you would try to work something through. And he was a real mentor.
MITCHELL: He looms so large in journalism.
We have two colleagues and friends joining us now, Bob Woodward and Sally Quinn, both from “The Washington Post.” Both know Tim, knew Tim well in Washington, and knew how hardworking he was.
Bob, when you had a story, you had some scoop in “The Washington Post,” who pursued you more avidly than Tim Russert?
BOB WOODWARD, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Not many people. And he was always curious about what was going on really underneath the surface, and then even deeper into the story. One of the little secrets about Tim was, he read books. And when you would go on his show having done a book, he really had read it, and not just in a superficial way, but in terms of the detail.
And, so, he would say, let’s see—you would be sitting there, thinking everything is going well, and he would say, on page 109, you said the following. And they would flash one of those deadly cards on the screen. And then, he would say, now, on page 472, there is this. It looks like a contradiction. And, then, with that poker face, he would let you kind of try to explain. And it would generally be some sort of contradiction. But there would be no chortle or glee. He would let you do it and give your answer.
And, at the same time, what was most useful about Tim is, if you I think you have to say it—an educator of people who watch television. It was the most serious hour on television by far Sunday after Sunday. And he would take not just the details, but then he would step back and say, well, you have done this book on President Bush. What did you learn about him that you didn’t know? What’s the takeaway? Is George Bush X or Y? He could go for the big picture at the same time. So, in a sense, this is a man who provided the—more detail and information to the American public than probably lots of television people all put together. And the tone was always serious. He took politics serious. He took the business of journalism serious. The idea was to get it right and be fair-minded.
But, then, on the side, he had this joyful life with his family and friends.
MITCHELL: And we have a statement from your former colleague Carl Bernstein, who said: “Tim Russert was a transformative journalist. He changed American television news by bringing it—to it his own values, integrity, fairness, good humor, humility, and a unique sense of how reporting history and politics are bound together. He was masterful at exposing hypocrisy.” Carl wrote: “I knew him as a source, a colleague, a competitor, and, on the air, as the subject of his tough questions. His approach to every role was always the same. He loved what he did and sought a way to the truth, often unconventionally”—Carl Bernstein.
Sally Quinn, you have been—you have known Tim a long time, but you also write on your blog on “Newsweek” about faith. And there was a part of Tim—I would see him leaving “Meet the Press” and going to mass. He was someone who was deeply religious, really lived his faith, lived all of those values. And it’s something that I know you have come to understand, as well as knowing that other side of Tim, the social side.
SALLY QUINN, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, that’s one of the things that’s so interesting about him, because Tim who was the ultimate Washington insider, player, he knew the game, he knew how to play it. No one could best him at it. And he was not a pushover. And he was not a patsy. But he also was a truly good person. And, as we all know, there are an awful lot of people in Washington who become very cynical and, as he once said, even poisonous. They come here idealistic and then they lose their idealism. He never lost his idealism. He loved his country. He loved his life. He was always talking about a little kid from Buffalo, look at me, and here I am. I can never believe it.
But what he always cared about the most was—and what he said to me in an interview I did with him is that we have an obligation. That’s the most important thing in our lives is, we have an obligation to help other people who are less fortunate than we are, who are needy. And that is the reason we are in this life. And that is how you tell the presence of God in others.
And I think that’s a side of him that people just didn’t know. I could give you 100 stories of Tim doing wonderful things for everybody. And we have all heard this in the last few hours, all the wonderful things that he’s done for all of his friends. But he also has projects that he did with kids. Obviously, he adored his son, Luke. And children were extremely important to him. But he also said, you know, sometimes, the problems in this world are so large, that you just can’t take them all on. And he was involved in a project where he was helping educate younger poor children who had no real chance at education. And he said, for me, one of the great thrills of my life is to see one of those kids graduate from college, because, he said, then I know that I have done some good, and even if it’s just one of them. I just can’t take on the whole world. I can’t do everything for everybody.
But he was always thinking of other people. And even though he worked harder than anybody I have ever known in my life, and I—he would go into training, like a boxer, before his shows. He was extraordinary. And he wouldn’t go out on Saturday nights. And when my husband and I had our 20th wedding anniversary, Tim said, I am going to make an exception and come to the cocktail hour. And he did. He came. But he said, can’t stay for dinner. And off he went, because he had to prepare. He had to plan. And when you saw the show, you knew every single day, every single Sunday, that that show was planned and that he knew exactly what he was talking about.
But the other thing is, you get this very tough-minded journalist and incredibly prepared person, but, at the end of every show, if you think about it, and go back and look at all the shows, there’s always where so and so is sick. They are in our prayers. This person had a hard time. This person has died. There’s almost always something at the end of the show about someone else and trying to wish someone else well. And I think that Tim was truly a generous person who wished everyone well.
MITCHELL: And, Sally, it’s been said a lot today that he never forget his roots, that he didn’t forget where—from where he came. One of his happiest moments, the picture that he would show off most in his office was when he brought his son, Luke, to be blessed by the pope, to be bless in Rome in the late ‘80s by John Paul.
But let me bring in now Mayor Byron Brown from Buffalo, New York. And any viewer of “Meet the Press” and certainly all of Tim’s friends know more about Buffalo than we ever thought we would know before we met Tim Russert.
Our condolences, Mayor Brown, because I know that he was still a part of Buffalo’s life. And just tell us the reaction there from all the people he touched.
BYRON BROWN, MAYOR OF BUFFALO, NEW YORK: Well, Tim Russert was absolutely a part of Buffalo’s life. And everyone in the city of Buffalo is shocked and saddened. And for all of us in Buffalo and western New York, it feels like the loss of a member of our family.
MITCHELL: Mayor Brown, I gather that there is a Tim Russert Park in Buffalo, and that there will be a candlelight vigil at 9:00 tomorrow night. If you could talk about that for a moment, and also about Canisius and about his roots at Holy Family. He talked a lot about Sister Lucille, what she taught him, what he learned later from his Jesuit education in college, but that whole network of the people of Buffalo. He helped—in the summers, he helped his father on the sanitation truck. He did all of those jobs himself.
BROWN: Well, yes, he did. He was a Buffalo seasonal worker going way back as a young man. He did work on a sanitation truck. And, in fact, I have ordered the flags at all municipal buildings in the city of Buffalo to be lowered to half-staff in honor of the memory of Tim Russert and all that he has meant to the people of Buffalo and western New York. We are all grieving his loss tonight, and just really all just very powerfully impacted by the loss of this great man and this great member of our community.
MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Mayor Brown. Our condolences to the people of Buffalo. He was their—probably their most public son, favorite son. And we all we feel we know a lot more about Buffalo by knowing our friend Timmy. And we thank you for joining us.
BROWN: He was the greatest ambassador for Buffalo in the world. And he will be sorely missed by the people of this community.
MITCHELL: And you are looking at the flag at half-staff in front of 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City, I believe. That is—I’m sorry. That is the hometown of Tim Russert in Buffalo. The flags have already been lowered. That is Buffalo City Hall. And the flags have been lowered in Buffalo.
Mr. Mayor, we thank you. Our condolences. And I know the people of Buffalo will be holding their candlelight vigil at 9:00 tomorrow night.
David Gregory, you and Bob Woodward have watched Tim as a competitor, as a colleague, the way he goes after a story. David, the way he would encourage us to dig deeper and find more angles, talk about him as bureau chief.
GREGORY: Well, I talked about my most relevant experience covering the White House. And, on any kind of big development, he’s there. He’s on the phone. What do you hear? What do you hear? What do you know? In those kind of hushed tones. You would know he was alone in the office, but it was that training from working on the Hill, that you always speak in those hushed tones.
But I would talk to him before press conferences and say, hey, look, this is the—there’s always the danger, of course. You know, you talk to your boss about, oh, this is the story—this is the question I want to ask. And they say, well, this is what I would ask. What are you going to say? No, I want to go with what I was going to do.
But, often, I would say, look, this is how I want to approach this. And he would suggest ways to refine it. Or there would be days when he would just say, look, this is the game today. This is what you have got to do.
And, so, he was a great sounding board in that way, could offer suggestions or maybe talk about issues in the course of the campaign and talk to you about Social Security. You want to know about Social Security. You talk to Tim, talk about what the debate is all about. He was indispensable in that way and just a towering figure. A lot of people have commented today and I have thought about it over the last few weeks. When Tim was on the air saying this race is over, we know who the Democratic nominee is going to be and that was Obama and there won’t be any doubting it. First of all, that was based on his reporting. He was talking to people inside the Clinton campaign. It did have that resonance and the power and the authority of coming from Tim Russert. And it’s been reported by “the New York Times” that inside Clinton headquarters when Tim came on and reported that, the air just kind of seeped out of the room because of his authority. I mean who else had that, who had that sort of...
ANDREA MITHCELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: You mentioned Social Security, the passion of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and the Senate Finance Committee that he chair. It was Tim Russert, really drilling down on that issue on budget deficits, on Social Security, on entitlements with Ross Perot.
He set the table. He set the gold standard for going after those subjects and with us now is Lawrence O’Donnell, who was a fellow member of Pat Moynihan’s dream team, what we should really call the dream team on the Hill who—Lawrence, I don’t know how to express the fact that you and Timmy did all this together. You were very young. You went on to greatness with “West Wing” and a lot of other things. But it was really those years working and learning from Pat Moynihan and who did a better imitation of Pat Moynihan than Tim Russert?
LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: There are legends Andrea of Tim Russert getting on the phone in the Senate and making phone calls, important phone calls of communicating certain messages in the Moynihan voice to people who believed they were talking to Daniel Patrick Moynihan. That’s how good it was. And Tim preceded me in Senator Moynihan’s office. His political career started as a volunteer in 1976 in the Moynihan campaign office in Buffalo. It was a campaign, Senator Moynihan was a Harvard professor at the time, running for the Senate. This was a campaign filled with some real smart Harvard boys, but it also had a kid from Buffalo who was smarter than anybody else and Pat Moynihan recognized that.
And for his first re-election six years later, Tim Russert was campaign manager. That’s how quickly his rocket went up in the Moynihan staff world. He was invaluable. That first reelection campaign Senator Moynihan won with 67 percent of the vote. That set quite a standard for those of us who were to work on subsequent reelection campaigns. And I met Tim in 1988 when I started working for Senator Moynihan. Tim had left by that time. He’d gone on to work for Governor Cuomo and I never forget my first encounter with Tim which was with Senator Moynihan in a New York bar on the west side. And I was nervous because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I hadn’t really been in a political campaign before and here was the guy who’d done it. And he just put his hand on my shoulder and said don’t worry, it’s going to be fine and just said a couple sentences that completely put me at rest at that point and gave me the kind of calm you needed to go forward in that kind of campaign. He was—he really had quite a touch. You know this. It was very special. It was pretty instantaneous upon meeting Tim that you could feel the reassurance of this higher authority around you and what you were working on.
MITCHELL: And Lawrence, he was never prouder I don’t think of an interview, with all the interviews he did, I don’t think he was ever prouder of a “Meet the Press” interview than the one he did with David Duke because he didn’t go after him with anything other than facts and held him to such a tough standard and, if you remember, Duke’s rocket was rising at that point and was considered a real player in politics.
He did not survive the “Meet the Press” grilling.
O’DONNELL: Right. As you know, it’s become a minor occupation in Washington to prepare people for going on “Meet the Press” because it’s the toughest forum you can go on and everyone knows it and it’s different from anywhere else. And so there are people who we know who had been brought in once in a while to prep people for going on that show. People talk about Senator Moynihan being a tough taskmaster, which he was and teaching us all how to use fact and how to approach things dispassionately and when you’re not sure of what the right answer is, be open to discovering it in different ways.
But I always had the sense that Tim, he did learn to perfect that in many ways with Senator Moynihan but I had the sense that Tim arrived into the Senate and working with Senator Moynihan that way. He just never varied in that style. It didn’t seem really like a learned style for him although working for Senator Moynihan was fantastic training.
Every morning, when you’d have to go in there and face him and deal with what the issues of the day were, you’d better have read five newspapers including the “Buffalo News” by 8:00 a.m. and be aware of what every columnist and every opinion was in the state of New York as well as the Washington press corps, along with all the legislative facts that you had to know, what was on the legislative calendar for that day and the committees on the Senate floor.
Tim was standing there for years getting every one of those questions right with one of the toughest task managers you could have in the Senate. And Tim and I were both pallbearers at Senator Moynihan’s funeral. The bond that came from working there not just between Tim and me, but really between people who worked there at different times, didn’t even work at the same time.. It’s a very close, tight kind of family that came out of that experience as well as what you all had with Tim at NBC.
MITCHELL: I think that’s because he reached out and embraced people.
And as David Gregory has pointed out, he embraced their children. He embraced all of us in that other part of our lives, the non-NBC part. He made this bureau into a family. We just saw pictures where he brought big Russ and Luke onto the set of “Meet the Press” and pictures of him with Betsy Fisher who shared earlier today with me. She was a 21-year-old young woman who came into this bureau and he had the faith and the confidence in her to make her the executive producer down the road of “Meet the Press” and she has led that broadcast for all of the years since. . David Gregory, the way he taught the young people in this bureau is going to be perhaps his greatest legacy. When I was sharing earlier, the way he brought Chuck Todd in as our political director and expanded his role and taught each and every one of us how to cover each beat we were assigned to as we moved through this bureau with ideas and encouragement. He was the chief cheer leader.
GREGORY: He was and he fought for his people. He fought for not just those who were on air. I mean he fought during tough economic times to preserve the strength of the Washington bureau to do the work that we do here in Washington. So he was more than a cheer leader. He was somebody who, if he knew the ways of Washington, he also knew corporate politics as well and he played it very hard and he did it for the people that he represented and he was willing to teach and that was significant. Again, this was somebody who had plenty to do on his own and who had the spotlight on him but he was willing to teach. I used to talk to him and sort of understand the formula of “Meet the Press” we would both substitute for him. He took a couple of weeks off a year, a couple Sundays off a year.
But he would be open to sharing a little bit of how he approached interviews. I remember asking him about tough interviews with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at one point and Rumsfeld getting mad about a particular thing that was shown during the program that he thought was unfair. I said to Tim, why didn’t you really challenge him on this point? It almost appeared that he was being rude to you. And he said, because I don’t want it to be that kind of program. I don’t want it to be an argumentative program. My job is to challenge to do it incisively, to keep pushing. But I don’t want to transform it into a different kind of program. Tim knew exactly what he wanted to do with “Meet the Press” and he did it brilliantly in a way that people came to depend on in a way that allowed him to transcend in his role as journalist in a way that very few have ever transcended because he reached people, he connected with people. He felt - I think people felt like they were informed by him and that they could trust him because Tim was authentic. Tim is the real deal. If he says something, you can take it to the bank and he’s going to help us understand what are some really big issues that the country’s going through and how to understand it and so, I think that’s part of it.
MITCHELL: And he never crossed the line. We just saw a picture of Howard Ickes who he knew from New York politics, when he had to be tough with the Clinton campaign, he was, but he maintained a relationship with Ickes as with so many other people throughout all of those years.
Lawrence, when you first were on the Hill, “Meet the Press” was a half hour. He had the clout here at NBC to expand it the hour that it needed and deserved and from there, there was no stopping him because he just clobbered the competition with accumulating more facts, having smarter ways of going at an issue and by doing substantive things. It was policy, policy, policy with him. When he started talking about entitlements and deficits, nobody cared about that stuff off the Hill and he made it the bread and butter of political campaigns.
O’DONNELL: You know, Andrea, we have been talking about his preparation. I was part of his preparation and some of my staff on the Senate Finance Committee would be part of his preparation. On a subject like Social Security, he would talk to me about what the state of play was on any possible legislation. He would then talk to our Social Security expert for another hour and a half on the incredibly mundane details so that he could be ready with what would amount to maybe three and a half minutes of a discussion on Social Security on Sunday morning and that’s why he was good. I think we all know also that he played the long game. This is to back up something that David was just saying.
You could watch him sometimes and say why isn’t he challenging more? Why isn’t he doing this and the reason is that he I think trusted the viewer. If someone made a statement that seemed a little absurd or a little way out there, I don’t think Tim thought he needed to double underline what that answer sounded like. And I think he was also willing, like a patient prosecutor in effect to wait as long as it took to see what the real answer is.
I would give as an example to that, the ramp up to the war in Iraq.
There’s been a lot of talk over the years why didn’t the press ask the tough questions. Tim Russert did ask the tough questions. The answers were oversimplified and those answers entered the historical record and have been used very effectively years later by any of us to construct retroactively what was clearly a naïve mindset on the part of the people who were masterminding this approach to Iraq, especially Dick Cheney.
Dick Cheney said things on “Meet the Press” that he greatly regrets and that some people, who are opposed to the war going into it were angry that why aren’t the moderators of these shows really slamming the vice president when he says I think we’ll be greeted as liberators. Well, one reason is, you can’t prove whether that’s true or false and Tim was patient enough to let the history roll out and let us find out what the ultimate truth of a statement like that was and the “Meet the Press”
video would always be there to show you what Vice President Cheney thought in that ramp up to the war as an example.
GREGORY: Lawrence, I think it’s such an important point because I think Tim considered “Meet the Press” to be a record for America. He wanted to put people on the record and to create this record for America, for our political life and on matters as important as going to war in Iraq, those interviews with Dick Cheney. The interview with Dick Cheney after 9/11, so important. But it was to create a record. It was not to argue.
It was not to shout down. Yes, it was to create that record and he did it through tough as nails questioning where it was very spare. It was very narrow and he got to the point of getting as close as he could to the truth as close as politicians wanted to come to telling the truth and he made that record and we will be - again, this is something that in our political life, in our political reporting, we’ll be able to draw from for years to come. That is just part of his legacy.
MITCHELL: And a reason why Dick Cheney came on “Meet the Press” at key moments in those years after 9/11 and during the run up to the war because he knew that Tim would give him a full hearing.
GREGORY: And a fair hearing.
MITCHELL: And a fair hearing and that is why so many people came on “Meet the Press.” Eugene Robinson joining us now, “Washington Post”
columnist and MSNBC contributor. Gene, this is a tough day for everyone here in the bureau and all of our viewers and friends around the country. You have worked so closely with Tim during this political year, this season and coming from the perspective of a columnist, you saw the rigor that he brought to his factual base.
EUGENE ROBINSON, “WASHINGTON POST”: Absolutely. Tim was a great reporter. It’s, in a sense, what distinguished him from so many other journalists and commentators. Tim had the facts because he had reported them exhaustively. He understood politics in a way that so few do. You know, I always thought when we talked about congressional districts in Iowa or in Illinois or in New York that a map must have come up in Tim’s mind because he seemed to kind of know where everything was and who everybody was. There are a few exceptional political minds like that in Washington. Tim certainly had one of them. It was this encyclopedic knowledge and this incredible work ethic that made him so outstanding, that made “Meet the Press” so essential to so many people, not only in Washington but around the country.
MITCHELL: Eugene, a poignant look outside our bureau here in Washington, a white slate similar to the one that is in Smithsonian which said Florida, Florida, Florida and a bouquet of flowers outside our bureau here on Nebraska Avenue. Tim ran this bureau like a large family. And when David Gregory was talking a few moments ago about the way he reached down and made sure that we have the resources that we needed, even in tough times and there have been a lot of budget cuts in every news organization and this has been a transformation that we’ve seen in print and in broadcast. But he managed to make this bureau lean and mean and hungry and at the same time, inspire everyone here to work harder, to do more jobs, to break down barriers that used to exist whether they were between job descriptions or hours worked.
There was never anyone who said no to Tim Russert at a time of emergency or ever said no to coming in. The team of people who are putting us on the air right now, who at the same time shoot “Meet the Press.” They were his floor crew for “Meet the Press,” people are working right now with tears in their eyes and heavy hearts because they are the people, the camera crews, the floor managers, the people that I can think of who are downstairs now in our editing rooms who have just undying loyalty to this man and he was our boss. He was the one who gave us the tough news when things weren’t possible and he still made it possible for us to do our jobs and found creative ways. Gene, I know you’re coming from the newspaper industry where we’re going through the same kind of changes. But he was a transformative figure in so many ways.
ROBINSON: He was. Andrea, you know, he had to work at that. It seemed so natural, in a way because he had these leadership qualities that emanated and that everyone picked up on it. You’re right, the atmosphere here at the bureau is one of just shock. People are literally stunned. Not only here, in the news room of “the Washington Post” earlier this afternoon, when we heard the news, you know, it was a similar reaction. Of course, not as deeply felt there, perhaps, because Tim wasn’t a constant presence in our news room. It was the same sort of oh, no, that can’t be right. That can’t have happened. Tim is not just an institution, but a presence that everyone appreciated in Washington, I think or so many people did.
One memory I have of doing “Meet the Press,” it was one Sunday in the wake of the whole Don Imus controversy, I remember the plan had been to do the Imus story and then move on to other topics that were in the news that day. But, we got on to a—what I thought was a good discussion of the Imus issue of race of political correctness and it kind of had its own momentum and so, Tim just kind of let it go and he kept pushing and asking more questions. We ended up doing the entire show, what was supposed to be just one segment. We did the whole thing on that one show. I remember afterwards, he was very proud of that, proud that we hasn’t kept to the schedule and just kind of given it a once over, but that we had stayed with it and perhaps gotten deeper and maybe brought out some issues that otherwise wouldn’t have come out. You know, that’s good journalism and that’s who Tim was.
MITCHELL: He was the best. Lawrence, you saw him on the Hill. Is that where he collected this network of sources? Maybe it was his affect, his ability to go and to listen to people, for people to know genuinely, how much he cared about them even as he met strangers, but he collected more sources than anyone I’ve ever known in this business.
O’DONNELL: Diagram Andrea of how to cover a story in Washington. I can speak as someone who worked with him on the source end in his reporting.
Gene talked about what a good reporter he is. He was a fabulous reporter. He knew exactly who to call when something was moving through the Senate or moving through the House. He knew which committee person and which staff person on which committee would know what the next play was and because I was the chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee, a lot of the agenda would be coming through my committee, whether it be NAFTA or other trade agreements, taxation, health care.
And the great thing about working with Tim as a source was how quickly he comprehended what it was I had to say. Frequently, these subjects are so complex that it’s hard to translate the state of play for, certainly for a civilian. It’s hard even for some Capitol Hill reporters. But with Tim, I could shorthand everything and I could refer back to a legislative precedent from 10 years earlier which will determine how this works and it was just a pleasure because you knew you were talking to someone who understood exactly how to weigh each one of the factors that you’re presenting and also knew how to do his homework beyond what I could give him. I could give him the state of play in the Senate, but then he would go and find out how things looked in the House and in the White House and so he was able to do that everywhere on the diagram of a story that it need to be done. Even if I didn’t have a personal friendship with him predating that kind of thing, he was someone who when anyone heard Tim Russert is on the phone in Washington, you jump on in the first second. No one ever left him on hold.
MITCHELL: Lawrence, those memories are extraordinary because there’s someone who knows more, or has forgotten more about journalism than any of us will ever know and that is Ben Bradley and Ben joins us now on the phone. Ben, the way he ran this bureau -
BEN BRADLEE: Go ahead.
MITCHELL: I’m saying that you have so much—such a stock of memories and you know so much about journalism. Watching the way Tim led this bureau and the way Tim broke stories, tell us about the Tim you knew both on camera and off.
BRADLEE: I mean, he was the consummate pro. I’ve been out of touch for about the last four hours. I don’t know what all has been said about him so I don’t want to repeat anything. He was all pro and good fun to talk to and didn’t take himself too seriously or didn’t take the rest of the charades too seriously. He was very knowledgeable about everything.
He was great.
MITCHELL: Ben, when I think about the way you led “The Washington Post”
during those tough years - there have been tough years here as well, not as tough as during Watergate, but...
BRADLEE: It’s the same kind of thing.
MITCHELL: It’s the same kind of thing and he stood up for his people but he also demanded that we really get everything nailed down. That’s a big talent.
BRADLEE: It’s the absolute, number one necessity. I mean you can be very highly principled and all that good stuff, but if you don’t have people shoveling coal and doing the hard work and the leg work, you haven’t got anything. And I think Tim knew that no matter how many big shots he knew, he also knew that it was the people under him who were going to really do the reporting and made them feel that they were as important as he was.
MITCHELL: Ben, talk about Sunday mornings before “Meet the Press”
expanded to the hour and became as important, an early primary in the political season as it has become, the Russert primary.
BRADLEE: “Meet the Press” was just, when I was starting out, that was one of all of our goals. If we could get on “Meet the Press” and we knew damn well we couldn’t unless the story was so obscure that none of the big shots knew anything about it and I remember I got my break on Algeria because I had just come back from living in Europe and I knew a lot about Algeria and nobody in Washington knew anything about Algeria.
So I got on. But, I mean it was like you were being knighted. All of a sudden, you just went up a couple ranks in class and you were taken seriously.
MITCHELL: If anyone wanted to understand anything about politics, “Meet the Press” was a must watch program.
BRADLEE: Yeah, no question, no question. I don’t know, I guess it’s still true. Ever since I bought a place in the country, I don’t see it every Sunday, but I think that it was—it certainly was. It certainly was and one of the news items on Saturday was who was going to be on “Meet the Press.” It was very important. When the schedule is important, you know you have arrived in this place.
MITCHELL: Ben, I know that you are very involved in a lot of aspects of life in Washington and there’s the off camera Tim, not just the fun and the liveliness of Tim, but also the person who is such a big supporter of charities. I know you’ve been involved with a number of them. What does he bring to that part of Washington, the small town aspect of Washington where we all try to help each other?
BRADLEE: That’s a very good point. People don’t pay much attention to it. But I think, if you get so big that you lose contact with those little things, it scars you. It prevents you from becoming really important. I think he brought—he had kind of a small town quality, all that Buffalo stuff. We didn’t know anything about that.
MITCHELL: We sure do now.
BRADLEE: Now, we do. He’s been talking to us about it for years.
MITCHELL: Thank you Ben Bradlee. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about Tim Russert, another giant in journalism from one to another.
Joining me now is a very close, close friend, a close friend of Tim Russert’s who was with him. Dr. Newman, you and I, we know each other.
We both know Tim but you had the sad duty of being with him in the ER today. I don’t know what you can share.
DR. MICHAEL NEWMAN, TIM RUSSERT’S PHYSICIAN: It’s a—talk a bit about Tim and talk a bit about coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac arrest. Tim had coronary artery disease with no symptoms, asymptomatic coronary artery disease as we see in many men and women.
His risk factors were well managed. He was well informed. He did his best with respect to diet, exercise and lifestyle. His blood pressure was well controlled. His cholesterol fractions was optimal. He had a stress test April 29, got to a very high level of exercise and he was quite pleased with his performance as we were this morning. As most mornings, he got on his treadmill and was always excited about how he pushed himself.
These events, these sudden cardiac events occur without warning.
There’s no way to anticipate or detect them. An hour before this happened, he could have had a stress test and it would have been perfectly normal. The reason why these events occur is because you have rupture of cholesterol plaque in the wall of the coronary artery and that causes a sudden cardiac coronary thrombosis which results in a heart attack. And the injury causes a fatal, in this instance, ventricular arrhythmia.
MITCHELL: And this was a blood clot when you say the coronary...
NEWMAN: The concern that we had was that perhaps this was related to a pulmonary embolist (ph) because Tim had flown on Sunday to Rome for Luke’s birthday, graduation, turned around. We did the autopsy to determine the cause of death. And autopsies are important despite all the technology and scans and imaging that we have. The autopsy showed that Tim had an enlarged heart and significant coronary artery disease in the left anterior descending coronary artery. And we could actually see fresh clot right in the coronary artery that was the coronary thrombosis that triggered the cardiac event and the arrhythmia from which he died.
MITCHELL: Dr. Newman, help us with this, because we know him as such a vigorous active man. He had just flow back. He had just taped a broadcast this morning and was downstairs here recording the opening sequence for “Meet the Press” and collapsed. Was there anything—the EMT guys got here very quickly. Was there anything that they could have done? They work on him --
NEWMAN: As soon as—within a few moments it was recognized that Tim was in trouble. And one of the interns here, who is a certified in CPR along with some of the staff here began CPR ad that was helpful. A defibrillator is what makes the difference. And you in these sudden cardiac arrests, use of a defibrillator which they were in the process of doing was important. Rather in NBC, the D.C. EMS arrived promptly and immediately defibrillated Tim. And they actually did it
three times in transporting him to the Sibley Hospital. ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: In the brief time we have left. Let me just clarify. This was a known condition? NEWMAN: He was known to have coronary artery disease. There are men and women that have coronary artery disease, it’s well-managed. There was a recent study - the Kord’s (ph) trial which showed medical management of coronary artery disease is the way to go. MITCHELL: And by the time he got—he was never resuscitated. NEWMAN: He was never resuscitated. The defibrillation efforts, the three of them, the full code and the epinephrine simply did not work. Even in witnessed cardiac arrests of people, survival is about 5 percent.
MITCHELL: And Tim Russert’s physical condition, his health, his weight. He exercised every day, I know he would come in here right from the treadmill.
NEWMAN: His weight was an issue. Weight is something that we all struggle with. Tim struggled with it and he always said, “Tomorrow, I’m going to start tomorrow, doc. I know what I have to do.” And - MTICHELL: Mike Newman I know you as a friend of Tim’s and I know how hard this is for you as his doctor and how painful this is for everyone connected. And we just want to thank you for sharing with our viewers to be as open as possible about what happened here today. It’s also probably a comfort to people in this bureau to know that he was under your care and that he was working to manage his condition. So, thank you.
NEWMAN: It’s an extraordinary loss and it’s something that I’m sure for all of us, we appreciate the uncertainty of our lives. MITCHELL: Never more so than tonight. There was no one better, larger, more heroics, more courageous in ever aspect of his life, more loving to his family, to his friends, to his employees than my friend and colleague Timothy J. Russert. He’s with the angels. And now to Keith Olbermann in New York. Thank you.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Now cracks a noble heart, good night sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. Tim Russert, moderator of MEET THE PRESS, NBC News Washington bureau chief, and more importantly to him, bearer of other titles—son, father, husband, friend, is dead tonight at the age of 58.
Had the news been something, anything else, Tim Russert would have been here to guide us. Tim Russert would have been able to put it in the proper context, and Tim Russert would have been able to make us laugh. Because Tim Russert died suddenly today when preparing for his weekly news broadcast to record, we’re going to have to find a way to navigate through the word of his enormous loss without him and hope that we will have done him proud.
He had videotaped his weekend MSNBC show today and was recording the narration at our Washington bureau when he collapsed dying immediately of an apparent coronary thrombosis. His internist, Dr. Michael A. Newman, saying that resuscitation was began immediately and continued at Sibley Memorial Hospital to no avail. The doctor also said that Tim was suffering for asymptomatic coronary heart disease and had done everything he could to control it. He’d passed with flying colors a stress on the 29th of April this year and had worked out on the treadmill this morning.
The thoughts and prayers of the entire MSNBC and NBC News family with Tim Russert’s family tonight, they were his true pride and joy, and a life of remarkable achievement. His wife, journalist, Maureen Orth, of “Vanity Fair” magazine, his 22-year-old son, Luke, the family just having returned from a vacation to Italy where they celebrated Luke’s graduation from Boston College. And, of course, his father, known to most as Big Russ.
Big Russ’s son, Timothy John Russert, Jr., born on May 7th, 1950 could also be called Big Russ when it came to the impact he has had and the magnitude of what you and I today have lost.
OLBERMANN (voice over): Just this year, “Time” magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Tim Russert got a mighty laugh out of most of life. And for all of his influence, for all of the razor sharp insight of his questioning, the encyclopedic knowledge of politics he carried in his head, the Tim Russert we knew and you knew, was defined by how much he enjoyed by what he did. TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Where is that guy with the - you know.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: That guy.
OLBERMANN: It fueled him and it made his work on MEET THE PRESS, on election coverage on NBC and MSNBC, and his writing pulsate with vigor and enthusiasm.
RUSSERT: Tom, actually, all Al Gore needs is Florida. All George Bush needs is Florida. They need Florida—Florida, Florida, Florida. Let me show you one more time, Tom, this is it. Right here—
Florida, Florida, Florida.
OLBERMANN: The dry eraser board and the infamous 2000 Gore-Bush election, every list of the most memorable moments in television history includes that—typical Tim Russert. As the technology increased and overwhelmed the news, he alone had the presence of mind to throw on the brakes and reduce the chaos of that election night to terms and means that were unmistakably clear. But the elections—even this year’s extraordinary string of debates and primaries and controversies, however much his insight and his wit shined within them, they were the unusual. One hour a week belonged to him and him alone.
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News, this is MEET THE PRESS with Tim Russert.
OLBERMANN: Since December 1991, Tim Russert had moderated MEET THE PRESS. One of once great franchisees in one of the once great formats of television, a program and a format that had to, some degree, lost relevance. He gave it back that relevance and more. RUSSERT: So, if the CIA said to you at the time, Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction, his chemical and biological have been degraded, he has no nuclear program underway, you would still invade Iraq?
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES: Because - OLBERMANN: Tim Russert was born in Buffalo, New York on May 7th, 1950. No city has ever been prouder of a native son and no son has been ever been prouder of his native city. It was not just MEET THE PRESS that made Sundays special for Tim Russert, that was also the day the Bills usually took (INAUDIBLE).
RUSSERT: You’ve got to believe, if you cheer for the Buffalo Bills and they win, I will not mention them on MEET THE PRESS for one year, I promise. And most important, you’ll make this guy, my dad the happiest guy in the world.
OLBERMANN: Tim Russert’s career in politics began when he served as an aid to Democratic senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York. Senator Arlen Specter is saying today that Tim Russert’s years on Capitol Hill gave him special insights on political and governmental issues. The Pennsylvania Republican adding that “had he chosen law as a career, his cross-examination would have made him a star in that field as well.”
Fellow New Yorker, Governor Mario Cuomo writing this past spring that appearing on MEET THE PRESS is today as vital to a serious as being properly registered to vote.
More than 4 million Americans every week agreed. Tim Russert, another member of the family on Sunday mornings, which is how Tim would have wanted it. To him there was nothing more important than family. To know Tim Russert was to know how extraordinarily proud he was of his wife Maureen Orth, an outstanding journalist and author on her right, and his son Luke, a recent graduate of Boston College, and, of course, his father, the subject of Russert’s best selling 2004 memoir, “Big Russ and Me,” to his famous son Big Russ of Buffalo, New York would be always be the real Tim Russert.
RUSSERT: Every day after school, I worked here, painted these lines by hand, answered the telephone, emptied out to $4, 70 cents an hour, $15 a week. But if I wanted to go to Canisius High School, I had to earn my tuition.
OLBERMANN: There is no question that Father’s Day will not be Father’s Day this Sunday for the Russert family. Just as every Sunday will not be Sunday without Tim Russert moderating MEET THE PRESS. Just as election night will not be election night without Tim Russert here to guide us. Because it often seemed Tim Russert invented and there could be no greater honor in television than to hear him say this to you. RUSSERT: Great question, Keith. That was done. Tomorrow morning they are going to announce for Obama. Now, we’re hearing - (END VIDEOTAPE)
OLBERMANN: And the flags at the municipal areas of the city of Buffalo are at half staff tonight at the instructions of mayor of that city.
Kelley O’Donnell of NBC News said that before presidential news conferences at the White House, she would often get a call from Tim who would ask her what she planned to ask, and then say, “Great question, go get them K.O.” Since I share her initials I was the other one here who got that exact same inspirational exultation. It was on the next to last e-mail Tim ever sent me this week, “Go get them K.O. It felt to Tom Brokaw to break this sad news this afternoon, our NBC News special correspondent and Tim Russert’s colleague for the whole of his time with us.
Tom, are there words for this?
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I guess the word that comes to mind is surreal. I think we all find it hard to imagine.
I was called this afternoon a little after 2:00 by Steve (ph) saying Tim has collapsed, they’re working on him, it doesn’t look good. And I kept shouting into the phone, “What, what?” And then, followed by a string of expletives, frankly, because he was not only my colleague, that he was my friend and he was kind of surrogate uncle to my daughters. And I was a surrogate uncle to baby Luke, if we called him all those years, and then he got to be Luke who graduated from college a week ago and he’s still in Italy tonight with his mother. OLBERMANN: Our gravity is off here. You have worked with so many people in television news and in journalism. The people who have this sort of impact are few and far between in the history of the media to be so influential, guiding a news organization to many respects, and participating in a primary role at the same time.
BROKAW: Well, he loved it. And he not only loved being on television, but he mostly loved sharing what he knew and he knew a lot always. And no one I have ever worked with on air in politics, in political journalism, knew as much about how it worked, what was likely to happen, who was up, who was down, what the strengths and weaknesses of various candidates were.
He was not great on policy. He really loved the political effect of policy decisions because he loved the game of politics—who won, who lost, what the consequences were going to be for the country. And it’s also fair to say that he was never a pretty face.
You know, he came into this medium determined to say Timmy J. Russert from South Buffalo, his Luke who have risen and hardly different say, “You know, dad, if I had your bucks I might buy a different suit than you got.” And Tim, would, it wouldn’t make any difference to him. And I don’t think hairspray ever touched those Irish lucks from South Buffalo. You know, he still wears the Windsor knot that he learned when he was going to finish his high school.
So, he was authentic and he was raised in a way that people were held accountable for who they were and that’s how his whole life. OLBERMANN: That was his own political position, wasn’t it? I mean, truly we may aspire to ultimate neutrality and some, you know, get there and some don’t. But his political point of view was—you may not be telling the truth or you are, one or the other?
BROKAW: Yes, I use the phrase clinical. You know, he was constantly doing a kind of diagnosis of whoever was before him, to see whether they were telling the truth. He knew what they have voted on before. He knew what’s they’re earlier statements have been, and he said, “Explain this to me.”
And you know, he had no better interviews than he did with Ross Perot, for example, or David Duke from Louisiana because he peeled it away and he did that in a persistent and kind of prosecutorial but lawyer way.
A lot of my friends who are lawyers would say, I would hate to face cross-examination from that guy, he’d give a heck of a deposition. The other thing about Tim is that he had a rollicking sense of humor. I’ve always regretted the fact that I don’t think we have on tape anywhere his absolutely drop dead imitation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He was so good he would answered the phone, one day he answered and it was Moynihan on the other hand and Tim had to explain that to the senator and it kind of came to a halt at that point. OLBERMANN: The enthusiasm for what he did and the enthusiasm for those who worked with him, it—calling someone a cheerleader has almost taken on a negative connotation, with him it truly was a compliment. That man did more for more people in this organization than we would have time to recount if we spent the whole weekend here. BROKAW: Yes. You know, he had such joy in what he did. And as a Washington bureau chief, he elevated that position, just as he elevated the Sunday morning talk format, I think, all those broadcasters now are a lot better because Tim set the bar so high, and that by the way, is a real public service for this country.
As I go around America and people began (INAUDIBLE), take a look at Sunday morning, you can start at 9:00 o’clock and go straight through until noon and you’ll learn a great deal and you’ll be talking to the decision-makers and listening to them and Tim did that. Again, it got back to being accountable. And a whole lot of people went through that bureau or were influenced by him and he would take the time to talk to them. He loved talking to college campuses. I’m on that stage now where I don’t do as many commencements;
Tim would do four and five, you know, and be really happy about doing it. He loved going out there (INAUDIBLE). I think we’ve often talked about this and Barnacle was another piece of all this, the three of us. We’re working class guys. You know, we grew up with this passion about politics in the political arena and where the country was going and we’d got paid for doing it and we couldn’t believe it. And we had that conversation a lot this year. You know, he would look at me, say, “Can you believe this year?” And it was only half over and it’s hard for me to believe that he’s not going to see the second half of this one.
OLBERMANN: As we look at his success and all that he did, it almost looks like it was it alchemy or it was magic. In fact, it goes back to the working class roots, it goes back to Buffalo, it goes back to the 77 cents an hour painting lines on their. It’s hard work and preparation. The inspiration—what to take from his life from someone who wants go and to succeed in almost any area would be—work hard. BROKAW: Work hard and be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way and he did that.
He graduated from John Carroll, went back to Buffalo, he really wanted to go back to law school, he didn’t have enough money. One of his father’s friends, (INAUDIBLE), as I remember it was (INAUDIBLE) handed Tim a paper sack full of cash and said, “Go to law school.” Tim did. And then he got discovered by Daniel Patrick Moynihan on a very (INAUDIBLE) Tim was kind of advancing Moynihan’s step (ph) up there. And the original story that I heard was that, Moynihan said at the end of the day, get on a plane, you’re going with me to Washington. Tim got on without a suitcase, I think, and went to Washington and then became the bright effective aide on Capitol Hill. He knew where everything was.
OLBERMANN: To finish this, we need to discuss this issue of the suddenness of his death and the issue of health. His doctor, Dr. Newman so forthcoming with Andrea Mitchell before the start of this program about his illness. What did you know of it? What did you know of his efforts to combat it?
BROKAW: Well, I knew that there were some conditions. He didn’t talk about that very much. But in these facilities, this spring, we have been talking a lot about his weight.
BROKAW: I went to him very early I said, Tim you got to lose some weight. I need to lose some weight. So, let’s start to do this together, let’s have a big bet. And the payoff was going to be the platinum albums of Chuck Barry. We’re both big Chuck Barry fans. And he did lose quite a bit of weight, lost 10 pounds, he was staying away from the snacks in the other room. He got down, he said, “I’m really out of terror now.” And he seemed really committed to it. I did not know about the asymptomatic heart condition, he didn’t share that with me. He did go to Dr. Newman, who’s a great doctor. He had another friend who was a doctor in San Francisco that he talked to a fair amount. But weight was a big piece of it. And I think in a way that he didn’t acknowledge or show, there might have been more tension in his life. He had to put Big Russ in an assisted living facility 10 days ago. That was weighing on him a lot. And he was going to go up to Buffalo and get that done at the same time Luke was graduating. They’re going to go to Italy.
Tim wanted to be back for MEET THE PRESS. He was on, as you know, until 1:00 in the morning here and then on THE TODAY SHOW the next morning and then he would be on MORNING JOE and on with you, and then again on the plane to do a commencement address somewhere. So, he was burning it at both ends. And, you know, I would raise the weight thing with him but not so much the schedule thing because I knew he loved it so much.
OLBERMANN: Exactly. I don’t know that you would have stopped him.
BROKAW: It would not have made any difference.
OLBERMANN: It might have hurt him more to -
BROKAW: And you know, he would—one of my favorite moments for him was Luke graduated and went to Ireland before they went to Italy and we were working in this last election, it was about a week ago Tuesday, whenever it was—when was the last time—June 4th. And Tim showed me an e-mail from Luke in a bar in Dublin saying got any exit polls for me.
OLBERMANN: Yes, that’s it in a nutshell.
Tom, the great pleasures and great moments of my career here at NBC have been working with you and Tim Russert, and under these circumstances, obviously, I wish anything other than us being here right now. But thank you for being here.
BROKAW: Well, I think our obligation is to, Tim sets the bar very high, we’ve got to keep it up there.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Thank you, Tom.
BROKAW: OK, Tim, thank you.
OLBERMANN: My colleague, Chris Matthews, getting word of Tim Russert’s passing from Paris where early this Saturday morning, I doubt the news has come any easier to take just for being remote. Chris, give me your thoughts, please.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, you know, Tom and he were so close and so as Al Hunt who spoke earlier. You know, I wasn’t as close to Tim as those guys and those guys were buddies for years, and Tim was just a role model to me, the guy to look up to. And he was younger than me but I always thought of them as older guy than me, he knew so much. You know, I guess a couple of things are really important to say. One is, besides being the hardest worker you could be, and I think nobody could ever go to work and to see anybody as prepared as he was. I mean, I watched him Sunday after Sunday after Sunday saying—God is he good and got his homework done. I can’t believe he pulled this out of his head.
The preparation, the way he’d be lawyer-like and nailing people and getting the facts out of them, just couldn’t do any better than that. How can you say about a person you couldn’t have done any better than you did? That’s the thing you got to say about this guy. You can’t be a better Tim Russert than he was. There was nothing to beat him—nothing to beat him.
One other thing, and may be tricky to say this and I’ll say it. When we went to war with Iraq, he and I had a little discussion about that and this is where he is every man. This is where Tim is Mr. or Miss America or Mrs. America. He is us as a country. I said, why—how can you believe this war is justified? And he said, “The nuclear thing. If they have a bomb that they can use, we’ve got to deal with. We can’t walk away from that.”
And that to me was the essence of what was wrong with the whole case of the war. They knew the argument that would sell with Mr. America, with the regular guy, with the true American patriot. They used the argument that would sell, that would get us into that war. Tim was right on the nail. He was us, the American people. And that to me is something that has been coming in my head the last couple of hours when Tim and I had that conversation, that that was the thing that sold America. And the guys who wanted the war used that one thing that would sell the patriot in Tim Russert.
And as a journalist, he was also an American. I think we’ve got to always remember because when people watch MEET THE PRESS and they watch NIGHTLY NEWS and they watch us—you and me, Keith—they expect us to look up to the country and to look out for it—in terms of finding the truth. Find the truth for us. There’s a purpose to finding the truth.
It’s for the good of us all and Tim never forgot the purpose of truth in getting at it was the good of us all. We needed the truth. And boy, did I look up to him.
OLBERMANN: Chris, the role that he had within this organization is, as I was talking to Tom Brokaw about just a moment ago, extraordinary and nearly unique. Andrea Mitchell used the perfect phrase, you went into sports for it—the player manager—the guy who plays second base and stars for the team and makes all the other decisions. That’s such a singular thing, is that in connection in some way to that upbringing, to that Mr. American kind of role that you’d just described? Does that spring from there - the ability to those at once?
MATTHEWS: Yes, he and Tom are a lot like that. You know, Tom they don’t just, Tom Brokaw, even he’s got this bigger position now, he’s a special correspondent, he’s still the guy we look up to. Both of them play the position, but every once in a while, Tom has come up to me, and is a wonderful guy and whisper to my ear—you know, that’s not the right way to say it. Work that out. Fix that thing.
So, he’s looking around at the other players. He’s not just playing his position as a senior commentator and a senior analyst and a senior newsman.
Tim was the guy you could call on the phone and everybody’s competitive, but I’d come up and say what do you hear? I’ve got to do this thing. I’ve got to do this interview. I’ve got to do - I’ve got to answer some questions myself and I’d ask him and he’d share. You know, it’s a competitive business and he wasn’t a bad competitor to have because he was always positive. He was always positive in the world we shared together. You know, he didn’t hurt anybody.
And I wish he had about five hours for this because I watched how he worked for Pat Moynihan. You know, he got Moynihan through that second election when the people were coming out to get him (INAUDIBLE), he got him through, he could take out an opponent by just doing a little homework.
He took David Duke back where he belonged when after Duke was saying, down in Louisiana, when he was almost getting elected governor, and Tim said to him, “You know, what are you running on if it’s not race?” And he said, “I’m running on the economy.” He said, “OK, tell me the three largest employers of the state of Louisiana,” and Duke was imbecile and he couldn’t name one. He was a complete fraud. He didn’t say you’re a bad guy for being a racist, he showed that’s all he was. That’s what a newsman can do for the country. Get to the truth in the matters to us all, that makes us a better country because we have the truth about somebody.
OLBERMANN: We talked all day -
MATTHEWS: I’ll never forget that David Duke interview. OLBERMANN: We talked all day about his role in journalism, his role and the loss we feel, Barbara Walters was on talking about the loss the industry feels and then she brought up a bigger point—this is a loss to the country. This is a loss in terms of the ability to get information from an honest broker, someone who managed the neutrality that the rest of us dream of, perhaps.
And how do we—how big is that gap that we have now seen open today? How big is the loss and how on earth is the American public going to fill it in terms of getting the information it needs for the vital choices ahead?
MATTHEWS: Well, I think everybody who went on MEET THE PRESS, especially, Barack Obama, Senator Clinton, anybody—I don’t care what their current situation was, knew when they went on there, that they were going to face their past, that they were going to face almost a general judgment in religious terms.
I’m sure Tim has already got through his judgment by now, the real one. But you know, I mean it. But - that you would be grilled on everything you’d said that was relevant to what you were saying, and you would have to have some consistency. Of course, you can change your mind on MEET THE PRESS but you knew that you’d be held to account. But again, it wasn’t just a deposition. I’m going to go back to this. It’s not that the totally neutral journalist is a purist, you got to get to a truth for a reason. You get to the truth because it’s important to know certain things. And to know what those certain things are, in the life of our world and our country, there’s certain information we’ve got to get and it’s important to get it and he knows what that information is and that’s the big piece of the journalism—the priorities he would set.
He knew what the average guy wanted to know in those interviews he did, but he also knew after all his homework, what the most important question was and he’d nail it. And these guys and women that come on the show, wouldn’t like it and they must have talked to their staff people for weeks to try to get finally around to say—do I have to do MEET THE PRESS. You know, do I have to do it? Yes, you got to do it, boss. And they had to face the fire of the truth with Tim. I guess there’s nobody else that has done it as well. We’d all tried it our ways, and we all have a few lucky three-pointers now and then. But he always went into the basket and put it in. OLBERMANN: Indeed he did. Chris Matthews is joining us from Paris, of course, the host of HARDBALL and I’m proud to say, my co-host here throughout the primary season. It’s just not going to be the same without us being able to turn to Tim, and know we’ll hear somebody, at least, if we don’t know what we’re talking about, here’s the man who does. We’ll miss him terribly. Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I think we lost a quarterback tonight.
OLBERMANN: We did. Thank you, sir.
Tim Russert first joined NBC in 1984, at that time, I’m certain correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, was instrumental in showing him the ropes at the Washington bureau. I gather as we talk again with Andrea tonight, I gather he picked up those ropes pretty quickly. MITCHELL: Well, I think I learned everything from him. It was the other way around, Keith. In 1984, I was a correspondent covering the Reagan White House and Tim was the vice president of NBC News in charge of THE TODAY program and a lot of other things as well. And so, for the next four years, he was one of the bosses, one of the suits in New York, but one with such a love and understanding of politics that on presidential trips and inaugurations and all of the big events, he was always helping us and telling us.
And then, in 1988, I was chosen to moderate the second—to be on the panel rather, I should say, the second of those Dukakis-Bush debates, George Herbert Walker Bush and it was much delayed. A decision negotiated about by Jim Baker for the Republicans, which delayed any second debate. They didn’t really want the incumbent vice president to have that debate with Michael Dukakis.
And at the time coming out of the Democratic convention if you’ll recall, Dukakis led 17 points ahead of the Republicans. And at that point, we had 24 hours to fly to California and prepare for that debate. And Tim sat with me and we started talking about questions and I wish I had taken his advice because I wanted to ask about a nuclear triad and the budget deficit and he had many better ideas. And as you recall, the only memorable thing out of the debate was the question to Michael Dukakis—if your wife Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you rethink the capital punishment—the death sentence. And so, you know, that was the memorable moment. Some of us were asking wonkish questions as we want to do back then, but, in fact, Tim had given me a lot of advice and I should have been listening to him more. I never ever ignored his advice again after that 1988 debate, Keith, because he then moved down here, became our bureau chief. And in 1991 went on the air on MEET THE PRESS, taking over as the host. The longest host of MEET THE PRESS and for 17 ½ years, transformed that broadcast into what Sunday morning television really ought to be about.
OLBERMANN: That point has been raised repeatedly and I’m fascinated by how that happened, because as I think was fair to state, at that time with the advent of cable just beginning to be really felt in television news, it seems as if the entire Sunday morning format had become, to some degree, not passe, at least not the number one thing in the medium, and yet, I think largely through the energy of Tim Russert, not just MEET THE PRESS but the entirety of that Sunday morning schedule on the other networks became the table-setter, the dictating of the entire week’s news menu originates from Tim Russert. How did it happen? MITCHELL: Well, we’ve touched on a couple of things. First of all, he had the cloud (ph) to expand it to an hour. ABC had an hour, we did not. We needed that hour to do the kind of work that we knew he could do.
Secondly, it was always issue and policy. And he was consistent in going after facts. And he, through his network, was able to book the best guests, the most important newsmakers and he was really persistent as anyone at the other end of that telephone could tell you. And at that the same time he was just rigorous in his preparation. Tom Brokaw said earlier today, tonight, that lawyer friends of his would call and say, is he a lawyer? Well, he was a lawyer. He was trained as a lawyer. He was also trained in college by the Jesuits. He was hammered and taught in his early grade school by the nuns and by Sister Lucille, whom he always remembered.
But he never forgot Big Russ and the people he was speaking to back in Buffalo. And that was so profound about him really, something Chris Matthews was just talking about. He represented everyone, every man.
He did it with class, David Gregory said. He always viewed it as the history book, the living history of American politics.
MITCHELL: And government. And so he didn’t want to go after people, but when that moment came with David Duke, which is still the moment I’ll always remember, he didn’t do it on race. He did it on the fact of Duke’s total lack of understanding, preparation or qualification to be governor of Louisiana, and hoisted him on his own petard. And he did not have to do anything or say anything. The voters, the viewers in Louisiana knew it better than anyone that Duke was finished. And that’s the way he handled every case put in front of him.
He was not a prosecutor, but he was an advocate, if you can understand the distinction I’m making, an advocate for every man and every woman across this country.
OLBERMANN: A partisan for the truth. Last question, Andrea, you interviewed Dr. Newman before we picked up the coverage here. I thought his openness about Tim’s health was extraordinary. Was it revelatory?
Were these things you did not know?
MITCHELL: I did not know. I knew there were some health issues he didn’t talk about them. When he had a hip problem, he didn’t talk about that. He worked his way through difficulties and pain. Clearly weight is an issue for everyone out on this political campaign. We eat when we can and snack too often and don’t eat regular meals. Sleep is in great deficit. There’s all of that stress.
This bureau has suffered the loss of David Bloom. And he died because of a thrombosis. After that, a lot of us were very aware of the need to exercise more and to, on long flights, worry about deep vein thrombosis.
Well, this wasn’t the proximate cause, as we know now sadly from the autopsy. But there were so many health issues, because of our terrible lifestyle, frankly, getting three and four hours of sleep a night, you more than anyone.
We need to take care of each other and ourselves. I think now this is a real lesson to a lot of people here, that we’re in the throws of the greatest political campaign of any of our lives, but we need to take care of ourselves. And I need to make sure that our young people here are not working too hard and are also following those basic rules of good health.
MITCHELL: A fitting memorial, I think, if you can help accomplish that. Andrea Mitchell, joining us from the Washington bureau. My thanks to you, and our condolences from here, Andrea. MITCHELL: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We’ll continue to remember Tim Russert after these messages.
OLBERMANN: It has been noted in other quarters that NBC News was not the first organization to report the death of Tim Russert this afternoon. There was an important reason for this. We wanted to be sure, absolutely certain, that every member of Tim’s family who needed to be told in person, in private, had that opportunity, was given that small piece of grace today. Other organizations did not do that. This is what Tom Brokaw broke to the nation this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: I’m Tom Brokaw, NBC News. And it is my sad duty to report this afternoon that my friend and colleague Tim Russert, the moderator of “Meet the Press” and NBC’s Washington bureau chief, collapsed and died early this afternoon while at work in the NBC News bureau in Washington.
Tim had just returned from a family trip to Italy with his wife, Marine Orth, the writer, and his son Luke. They were celebrating Luke’s graduation from Boston College just this past spring. Tim, of course, has been the host of “Meet the Press” longer than any other person in that long running television broadcast. And he has been a very familiar face on this network and throughout the world of political journalism, as one of the premiere political analyst and journalists of his time. (END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tom Brokaw’s original report on NBC and MSNBC this afternoon, reporting the first news of the sad and overwhelming still to this hour death of our colleague Tim Russert. Joining me now, Frank Rich, columnist of the “New York Times.” Frank, thanks for coming in. FRANK RICH, “NEW YORK TIMES”: Thanks for having me, Keith. OLBERMANN: Put, if you can, Tim Russert in the context of our political dialogue, our political understanding of ourselves as a nation.
RICH: He was absolutely central to it. As many people have said, he took this tired vehicle at the time he went into it, the Sunday morning chat show, which had really become very dry and somewhat moribund and trivial. And by the sheer force of his intelligence, hard work and his zest and love for Washington and politics, turned it into this meeting, not just for the press, but sort of meeting of the biggest news makers in our politics that anyone in our business, needless to say, but also anyone who really cared about civic life in America, had to watch.
I’m not sure there’s another single entity in the news business that quite occupied this position.
OLBERMANN: What made that change possible? Is this a question of a man who knew his topic and was so enthusiastic that he carried you along with him? Where was that connection that so many people strive for and he seemed to have had naturally oozing from his fingers? RICH: He wore himself lightly, but obviously that casual manor, or that sort of every man manner belied an enormous amount of preparation.
He was really on top of things. Not many people can sustain give and take for a tense hour with not all that much commercial interruption, with some of the most powerful people in America, and make it interesting and dynamic, often by challenging what they were saying. And he drew you in. There’s a drama to that. It’s not dry.
part of it is about presentation. But part of it simply that he followed a narrative, I think. He knew what story he wanted to get to. He didn’t know the answers. He wanted the facts. But he knew how he wanted to convey a Dick Cheney or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Whoever he had there, he knew what he wanted out of them. He was like dogged in pursuing it, and relentless, but not in a nasty way, and with a certain amount of humor, and certainly a lot of humility. OLBERMANN: I have heard today it say that he was not—in this era of gotcha question, that there were no gotcha questions from Tim Russert.
I didn’t think that was quite precisely correct. There were gotcha questions, but there were always, almost always, the David Duke example that was cited twice tonight being one of exceptions, on almost every other occasion there was the gotcha question with a knowing smile and then enough room for whoever had just been gotten to give some sort of explanation or to admit that their positions had change. In some ways, there was a pursuit of truth, but a gentleness in the process that seemed to transcend the whole idea of the gotcha question. RICH: That’s exactly right, Keith. He wasn’t a wise guy. He wasn’t a smart Alec. Often, the gotcha question very substantive and legitimate.
It was playing back the words of the actual guest that had been then contradicted by the guest’s or subsequent words. That’s a legitimate form of inquiry and it also shows some of his training as a lawyer. But you’re right, he would pull back. He would allow the person to dust him or herself off and preserve some humanity. It wasn’t like a cross-examination in a courtroom in that way.
OLBERMANN: The story I’ve told a couple of times today, that I will carry with me for the remainder of my life, is this past primary season, which just ended a week ago Tuesday, where we would be on the air for six hours or seven hours or however long it was, and Matthews and I would get up from this desk here and stagger to the doorway; and Tim Russert would be out in the hall continuing. It really was a question of—the camera being on or off did not really seem to have much to do with his enthusiasm or his willingness to talk about it. It just kept going and he had something else to say and something occurred to him after he finished, and something else he wanted to bring up next week.
There are very few people with enthusiasms that strong and that sincere about anything, let alone something as important as the politics of this nature.
RICH: Exactly. the last time I saw him in person was in this studio, in the back corridors. I can’t remember whether we were on together or not. I don’t think we were. It was just as if—it was the middle of the conversations, whatever happened in the news that day, it kept going and kept going and kept going. The thing is, what you saw in the back corridor was what you saw on the air. I think audiences not only understand authenticity and respect it, but they know when someone on top of the subject, really loves it, really cares about it, really wants to know the minutia, but not lord it over you and not turn it into some sort of high toned put down of the audience or guest. That’s exciting. That enthusiasm about anything, whether it be politics, sports, business, the arts or whatever, it comes through in someone’s personality, and it certainly came through on camera in the way he conducted his show.
OLBERMANN: Doris Kearns Goodwin was with us during the afternoon in the immediate aftermath of this news and suggested that at heart, Tim was a historian. I noted this from our conversations with him and she remembered the 2000 election, and being asked by him for stories about Rutherford B. Hayes in the 1876 election, which I happened to invoke a couple of weeks ago. And Tim’s eyes light up. This sense the story you need to understand about American politics 2008 requires you to understand maybe a little bit about what happened not just in 2000 or in 1900, but maybe something from 1876. Was that quality discernible to you as well?
RICH: Totally. That gets back to the point I was making before about the way he constructed an hour of “Meet the Press.” History is about the story. It’s not just about personalities. It’s not just about policies. It’s not just about the positions people take. It is about telling a story. I think he saw this continuity in the whole American story that indeed, as Doris said, involved history in the past, but also had a sense of the history of the present.
That’s why his Florida moment in 2000, I think, had such resonance, the sheer delight that this was the story. It transcended even the legal issues or the vote counting issues or the political positions of the guys who were up for president. He wanted to be in on the story of American history and clearly that’s what drove him and that’s exhilarating and was exhilarating to people who followed him. OLBERMANN: The number of times we all had the privilege, Frank Rich, of hearing this man say, “this is great.” That’s what I will take with me I think. Frank Rich of the “New York Times,” kind enough to come in on this sad night, thank you, Frank.
RICH: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: David Gregory joins us now, NBC News chief White House correspondent, host here on MSNBC of RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. An extraordinarily difficult day for you, my friend. Thanks for spending a little time with us tonight.
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Thank you, Keith. I think you’ve been very comforting to all of us as you’ve talked about all of this. I have to say, I’ve been spending so much time on the Blackberry all day and getting messages from friends. The outpouring of grief for people who know me on behalf of Tim goes to the point of just the crater that has been left in this building and beyond in Tim’s absence. I think we really are in a state of shock and it’s what so many family goes through when somebody dies suddenly in the family, or a friend dies so suddenly. They were just here and now they are gone and we’re trying to make sense of it. But I keep coming back—everybody who has kids that I know has a story to tell about Tim Russert. And I have my own and I have shared some about them about my boy being born, my oldest boy, and Tim calling me on the phone in such a heart felt way, and jumping through the phone with enthusiasm to say, this is great. There’s nothing greater than this.
And he meant that. It was the life he lived with his son Luke. My oldest boy Max, who is almost six years old; we go to baseball games, and you want to hang out with uncle Tim. He would say, daddy, how come our seats aren’t down where uncle Tim are? I’d say, that’s a longer answer that I’m not prepared to give you, son. He had such a joy for children, his own and others. It’s one of his many gifts. It’s one that I will think about most, because there’s so many people in our political world and in our journalistic world who can expound on the many gifts of Tim Russert the professional, but those of us who have been touched by him, who have been around Tim, get to expound on what kind of dad he was, and how that affected us as dads as well. As we get closer to Father’s Day, that’s what I’ll think about a lot. OLBERMANN: The timing of this relative to Father’s Day is heart breaking by itself. I met Luke not at some NBC event or in this building or in your building, but, if I’m remembering correctly, either it was the 1997 World Series or the 1998 All-Star Game. It’s not a question of your son asking, why don’t we have as good seats. It’s your son maybe, why am I not on the field the way Luke Russert was? He did everything he possibly could. That whole issue of family, you hear this with the passing of any great man—you hear something about, well the person you didn’t see was this family man. This is clearly true in this case, but really you’re talking about—you’re describing a man who almost was the east coast representative on behalf of have a family, have a kid. Go out there. Go and do it.
There really was an advocacy of this almost, was there not? GREGORY: That’s exactly it. I talked to a colleague who is expecting another child, and has all of blessings of that. And Tim said to this woman that look, forget about the timing, this is what is most important. And he lived that. You know, yes, he worked terribly, terribly hard. But made Time for his family. He actually did it. How do you do it? What’s that work/life balance about? You do it. He did it and he was there for Luke.
I remember him telling me about Luke and the kind of dad he was to him in high school. He said, look, kids see through you. And you got to be the real deal. You got to be there for them in a real way, because they know if you’re faking it. And that’s what he was for Luke. And I think that’s the kind of advice that he gave all of us as dads. In my faith, in Judaism, it’s sad that when your life has ended and you meet your maker or god’s angels, they’ll ask you a series of questions.
And among them are, did you work hard to have a family and did you work for the redemption of the world? In other words, did you try to make the world a better place? Tim did have a family, a loving family, one that he brought into the world and will spread joy further because of who Maureen is and because of the man that Luke is and will become. And he did he try to make the world a better place. He did it with his colleagues and he did it through his work. He had a rare opportunity through his work, through this platform, to create a record for the country about our politics and about our policy, one that was not done through confrontation, but it was done through skill, aggressiveness and persistence.
And he had a format to make us better informed. He did it through his authenticity, so that people who were confused about politics, needed to learn more about politics about leadership would get that understanding through him, because he was a trusted soul. He was a trusted person in our public life. That’s what we’ll all mourn, is—those of us who had the experience of being touched by him personally, somebody who is such a trusted friend.
But for everybody who had their experience of Tim Russert, we’ll mourn the passing of a trusted and authentic and meaningful figure in our public life.
OLBERMANN: I think it’s an opportune time. There’s a clip from one of his broadcasts about the meaning of fatherhood and the relationship to his son, relationship to his father, of whom he wrote in the book.
Let’s play that tape now then I have a question for you about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, FMR. NBC NEWS: Because my dad worked two full-time jobs, he couldn’t come to my baseball games or my school activities. And I missed him. I knew he loved me. I knew he would have been there if he wasn’t working. And he was working so we could have a house to live in, an automobile. He paid for our Catholic school education. But I have made a conscious and deliberate attempt to find time in my work schedule to go to my kid’s games, to go to my kid’s school activities, because I remember how haunting it was to look up at the stands when you’re at home plate and your dad is not there.
I hope it has made me a better father. With that comes, I hope, an acceptance by my son that I stand on my dad’s shoulders and my son stands on mine, and the only way we can do that is by accepting from each other, from generation to generation, these lasting lessons of life.
I’m the first person in my family to go to college, much less law school. You think about that. My dad quit school in the tenth grade to go fight in World War II. But he never regretted it. He never was envious, saying why didn’t I have a chance? I stand on his shoulders.
And I hope my son will stand on mine. That’s the essence of these relationships, hard work, discipline, accountability.
There are lots of cartoons that make fun of dads. And I laugh at them too, but deep down, we all know, deep down we all know that our fathers gave their all, sacrificed their all, sometimes working two and three jobs, in order to give us a shot at the American dream. The son of a garbage man to moderator of “Meet the Press;” where else in the world?
(END VIDEO CLIP
OLBERMANN: David Gregory, the point, the timing of that relative to Tim’s passing today, the trip that he had just taken and come back from to Italy was to celebrate his son’s graduation from college.
GREGORY: Right. And Tim was a humble guy. I mean, humility is defined by understanding his circumstances and what a great job he had and what a great station in life he had come to occupy given his roots. I’m reminded of something that another faith leader talks about, that you can’t command your children to be of your faith. You can’t command your children to do certain things you want them to could. All you can do is lead a beautiful life, live a beautiful life, and hope that they come to love what you love.
Tim Russert’s dad, Big Russ, led that life and was an example to Tim Russert. And he learned those lessons and came to appreciate what his father loved and what his father valued. And that’s what Americans connected to, was that authenticity and that sense of shared values. And you know, for Luke who is becoming such a fine young man, he too will lead that life, because he’ll look at his father and say, man, my dad lived a beautiful life the way he lived his life.
It wasn’t the trappings. It wasn’t the trappings of success. It wasn’t the money. It wasn’t all the access that Tim, that he could go to all the All-Star Games. That was around the edges. That was fun stuff. But it wasn’t what defined Tim. And that came through in everything he did. He wanted you to work hard. He was always here. But when it came to your kids, that was the deal. And that was the important stuff. And he reinforced that message all of the time. I’ll share with you Cardinal Theodore McKerick (ph) a group of us in prayer here this afternoon. Tim would be happy to know that all the big names of faith were here for him.
OLBERMANN: Indeed, he would.
GREGORY: You know, Cardinal McKerick said that we will miss him and we will mourn his passing, but Tim has gone home. And I said this earlier, but none of us can imagine that Tim would have ever left work early, let alone this year, in the middle of this campaign. It is simply unheard of and it deepens the shock for us.
OLBERMANN: It deepens the shock and you almost sit there saying, how in the world can we have this election now? how can we have it without Tim?
OLBERMANN: How can we go on without him? How can we do it?
What do you think?
GREGORY: There’s a tremendous example there. I think that one of things that Tim did for me, and I think he did it for others, is that he taught. He was willing to be a mentor. He was willing to share how he did things. He believed in, you know, helping to develop another generation of journalists. And he was very formative in that way, in the way that Tom Brokaw was and is, to those of us who have come up here at NBC News.
Tim was willing to teach and to inspire and he has done that for me. I think he has done that for you. He done it for our colleagues.
We know where the bar is. I know what I have to keep doing, and I know
I know what Tim would say, and a colleague of mine said, we’re going to wonder, what would Tim do; what would Tim say about this? We’ve learned a lot about Tim and we’ve learned a lot from his guidance. And I feel like I’ve learned a lot about life and about being humble and being authentic and keeping perspective. I think Tim taught a lot about that, just based on the life he lived. And I think as a professional, and for those of us who cover politics, he’s taught me a lot. And the lessons are deeply ingrained, and I just hope to put them to practice.
OLBERMANN: Well said, sir. At minimum to save us through these awful days to come, we got to work with Tim Russert. David Gregory of NBC News and MSNBC’s RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE. Thank you, David. Our condolences from here. Take care.
We’ll continue our remembrances of Tim Russert, who passed away today, after this.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Statements from public figures on the passing of another public figure are not rare but the outpouring of them and tonight is extraordinary. The pile on this desk has grown to an inch high or more. Here are some of what America’s politicians and broadcasters have said in memory today of Tim Russert. Perhaps the most insightful of them all, from Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut: “Tim Russert was the embodiment of journalistic integrity and clarity, who shed light on how our politics and our government worked, Tim became an America institution and the explainer in chief of our political life—the explainer in chief. From the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore, who is, of course, linked forever with that dry erase board with Tim Russert. Al Gore said: “The United States and the world have lost a great journalist and interviewer and author. He was an original and will be greatly missed.”
From former President Clinton and Senator Clinton, “We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of that passing today of Tim Russert, who always true to his Buffalo roots. Tim had a love of public service and dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him a respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also those of us who have the privilege to go toe-to-toe with him.”
From presidential candidate, Senator John Edwards: “A great man has been lost. It is not just that our system depends on intelligent, persistent, fair-minded journalists and Tim was one, it is not just that the civility of our political interchange requires dignity and respect and it also true compassion and that Tim was a model of each of these. It is not just that the matter in which we treasure and respect our special personal relationships is the real mark of character and that Tim was an exemplary son and husband and father. It is that too few among us reached for all these things and even fewer attained. We were blessed to have had his friendship and companionship.’ From Senator Ted Kennedy, “Tim Russert was a gentleman and giant not just in politics but in journalism but in life. And through that life he gave us all a model worth emulating.”
And lastly, I must mention this, from Mayor Byron Brown of Tim Russert’s beloved hometown, Buffalo, New York: “On behalf of the residents of Buffalo, I express our shared sadness and shock at the news of Tim Russert’s death—an accomplished journalist who first gained his experience in the world of government and politics, Tim Russert rose to become the premiere political journalist of this current generation, but more than his professional accomplishments, Tim Russert cherished his family and friends and his hometown.
He never forgot his roots in South Buffalo and he often reminded his television audience and guests of his strong affection for Buffalo, particularly his beloved Buffalo Bills. He was truly our city’s greatest ambassador and he was loved by everyone in Buffalo and western New York.
To honor Tim Russert’s memory, I have ordered all flags on city property be lowered immediately to half staff.”
And that as you saw was already accomplished late this afternoon in Buffalo, New York on the instructions of Mayor Brown. Another symbol, I think of the respect, the love felt for Tim Russert in this country and in this business is the fact that one of his rivals on Sunday morning, Bob Schieffer, the chief Washington correspondent for CBS News and, of course, the moderator of “Face the Nation” has been kind enough to join us at this hour where it is 3:00 o’clock in the morning, once again, from Paris.
Bob, the outpouring for Tim, I think, is perhaps in one small way the measure of this man.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Well, it certainly is. And I must say, I think it was deserved. Tim and I were great friends off camera. He was a fierce competitor, but you know, some people know how to play the game and some people don’t. Tim Russert played it the right way. He had, first of all, great respect for the news and the people who make news. He had great respect for his competition. He liked nothing better than scooping you, and believe me, he was the best in the business. He had great contacts. He never stopped working. I knew every Sunday that when I went on “Face the Nation,” I’d better be doing the best I could because Russert was over there on that other channel going full speed. I think, I would just say this, Keith, I think, Tim Russert in a way made “Face the Nation” better because he was over there as my competitor. I worked harder than I ever worked in my life and we went at it head-to-head every week for 18 years. Sometimes he got me, a lot of times he got me. Every once in a while I got them.
We were both delighted when we scooped the other guy. But sometimes, you know, when you beat Russert on the story, he was the kind of gentleman would just tip his hat and go onto the next one. He knew there would always be a next one and that was his attitude. I enjoyed competing against him. He was a great friend, and quite frankly, I’ll miss him more than I can say.
OLBERMANN: The objectivity that, at various times, all of us strive for or dream of or proclaim, seemed to come to him in a natural fashion that you wish you could bottled or he could have bottled and sold to the rest of us. It was an exceptional. His only allegiance, I thought, was to information and enthusiasm about the truth. Would that be a fair statement?
SCHIEFFER: I think that’s exactly right. I mean, he gave the revolving door a good name. He had started out in politics. He was very good at politics and he had a keen understanding of politics because of that—the kind of understanding that sometimes you can only get by being a participant.
But ones he left politics he put all of partisanship aside. He worked behind the scenes at NBC. He sort of earned his stripes there before he went on “Face the Nation” and once he went on that broadcast, he asked the hard questions no matter who the person happened to be. And you’re exactly right, Keith. He was his objective was to get at the truth. And, you know, when you can do that and do it the way he did, it can be a very noble thing.
It’s when we try to go beyond that sometimes that we all get into trouble. But Tim was very good at that. He was fair to everybody, but he was fair because he asked the same questions of everybody. OLBERMANN: You mentioned your friendship that developed in the course of this seeming on-air rivalry that really led to something much more profound than that and the friendship of Tim Russert. He was so generous with everybody with whom he worked and so encouraging, I’m wondering did even that transcend the network rivalries, did you get encouragement from Tim Russert the way the rest of us did, by call or visit or e-mail or ballpark visit?
SCHIEFFER: Well, you know, we spent a lot of time at the ball games together. His seats were right next to my seats at the Nationals new ballpark. We had the same seats at the old RFK when Washington finally got a baseball team four years ago. Yes, I mean, he was such a lover of news and he had such great respect for news, that every on that rare occasion when I’d scoop him, he would actually call. I remember once I got an interview with President Bush when we’d all been trying to get one, he called and said, “Great get” and said it was a good interview. I don’t know if it was or not, but, you know, he was just that kind of a guy. He just loved the politics, and that’s what was so much fun to be a friend of his—is he always knew some piece of gossip, he always knew some tale, he always knew what the back story was and we spent a lot of time at ball games talking about politics, not about baseball.
But having said that, he knew a lot about the game and he was a real baseball fan.
OLBERMANN: And I guess that’s where we should close Bob because you told this story before and he think it’s a summation in some senses of who Tim Russert was just as a guy. This marvelous story of the “Fort Worth Cats and Bob Schieffer bobblehead night.” SCHIEFFER: Yes, you know, a couple of years ago, my hometown team the Minor League Fort Worth Cats, they had Bob Schieffer bobblehead night. So, I went down and very proudly accepted my bobblehead. I’d got back to Washington, the day I walked into my office, there in the center of my desk was a little box. I open today it up, inside was the bobblehead of Tim Russert with a little note that said, “Just wanted you to know I’ve got one, too,” because his hometown, the Buffalo team had given Tim a bobblehead.
I have to say this, you know, both of us have won a few awards along the way but the two of us are the only Washington reporters I know of that both have their own bobbleheads and I want to tell you Tim’s bobblehead stands right beside my bobblehead in a shelf in my office and it will be there as long as I have that office.
OLBERMANN: And that is a good thing to hear. Bob Schieffer is joining us from Paris, in the middle of the night, paying tribute to his friends and, at least, on paper rival, Tim Russert in the wake of his passing. Bob, thank you again, good night.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Tim. Thank you very much, Keith. OLBERMANN: Joining us now, my colleague in NBC Sports, Bob Costas who has had so many roles in the network and interacted with Tim Russert in so many ways. As we remember Tim tonight, Bob, the point that Bob Schieffer just raised is a place to start.
There are—we encounter a lot of sports fans obviously between us. There are very few of them who have the kind of sports mania, have knowledge to play in that same league as Tim Russert. He knew his stuff and it kind of informed his news judgment in a way, I think.
BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: Well, I certainly understood competition, both of a political sort and in the sports arena. It wasn’t just his hometown teams in Buffalo, although he would always make a point to mention the Buffalo Bills, he’d conclude on MEET THE PRESS serious conversation on the Super Bowl Sunday or a playoff Sunday and punctuated with “Go you Buffalo Bills,” and that might be the only non-objective sentence he uttered during the entire hour. He was also a member of the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and he took that role very seriously and took an active role in some of the decisions that were made there and some of the policy decisions that had to be made. His voice was always heard and he loved, and it seems just like a quirky thing when they were endearingly quirky things about him, he absolutely loved Yogi Berra, Keith.
And I remember once before an all star game in Philadelphia, it must have been 1996, and the game was on NBC, and he invited me to come on MEET THE PRESS and his guests were Bud Selig to talk about the serious issues facing the game and Yogi Berra, just because as a kid, Tim always loved Yogi Berra and it needed no more justification than that.
And here was this man who was used to grilling presidents and prime ministers and secretaries of state and kings and brigands alike, and he was just stammering like a little kid in a presence of Yogi Berra, all but producing his 1955 baseball card for the great catcher to sign. And that was one of the endearing parts of him—his enthusiasm was contagious, whether it was for baseball or for politics. He was more than just an accomplished professional. He had an honest enthusiasm for everything he threw himself into.
OLBERMANN: Yes. On several occasions, seeking help on stories
even just this year, I had e-mailed him and called him a couple of times on things and the price for the information was whatever might be coming up about the Washington Nationals if there was some hope for him, he needed, it was a trade-off, it was he wanted to know because that was
as much as he continued to love the Yankees, this was finally his chance to have his team there.
I have a question, this is a strange question, but here’s a man who we know trained in the law and went into politics and worked in a senior advisory capacity to Senator Moynihan for one, and so helped in that re-election for the New York senator and stepped into management at NBC News, and one day sat down behind the desk to host MEET THE PRESS and became instantly one of the best broadcasters in the business, with seemingly no background whatsoever.
I’m not by any stretch of the imagination suggesting that that would have annoyed anybody else because I don’t know of anybody who was annoyed at Tim Russert and certainly not at his success, if Bob Schieffer was coming on in the middle of the night to talk about it. But it is remarkably, I think, remarkably insightful about how people who are authentic and who are themselves can succeed in front of the camera even in such a pressurized and important role as the one Tim had. COSTAS: He was an exceptionally good communicator, maybe not exactly in the textbook fashion that we think of other broadcasters, but in his own fashion, he could get a point across. People understood what he was saying. And he they felt comfortable listening to him. You know, in a high tech world, he pulls out that little chalk board and he starts figuring out electoral votes and even as he’s dealing with serious issues, you can see that smile on his face, and he’s saying to himself—damn. I don’t want to be any place else but here. I enjoy this so much.
He wasn’t just interested in politics and what was going on in the world, he was engaged by it and he actually found it to be so much fun. And I think the audience found that to be infectious. OLBERMANN: I think we’ve said it exactly correct, Bob. Bob Costas of NBC Sports, always a pleasure—I’m sorry it’s this topic—but thanks for your time tonight.
COSTAS: Yes. Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From our Washington bureau now, let’s turn to Chuck Todd, the political director of MSNBC and NBC News. And I know what a tough day this has been for you, Chuck, because—we’ve talked so much about Tim’s influence on the people with whom he worked, and his ability to say—I believe in you and you’re going to do go do the job, now go and do it and you may be our primary example of someone who was essentially assembled in the television sense by Tim Russert, is that fair to say?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Look, it is. I mean, it was about 15 months ago that he called to say—you know, do you want to come work for me? It’s sort of like getting the dream phone call, you know, the idea that I was going to get to work for Tim Russert, work for the guy that has defined politics, work for the guy that it’s not just politics but, you know, his so much enthusiasm for sports, as Bob was just saying, and for family.
And he was a person who, I thought, was a role model that I didn’t know. And then all of a sudden, you get to know him more and he’s more real. He’s more of a role model even more than I realized just as somebody who was a fan and was an admirer and, you know, somebody I idolized. And then all of the sudden, you get to work for him and you get to see him behind the scenes. And he’s not only the person that everybody thinks he is on this camera, this sort of the every man that could explain politics as well as anybody, but he’s that way off camera.
And it’s—to know that I have these memories the last—I’d just think about the last seven months now. I just can’t believe we’re going to finish this campaign without him but I thank God we finished the primary campaign with him. To have trudge through the snow in Iowa, to go on a car trip in Florida with him—and by the way, he always drove. He was in charge.
And what was great—I mean, I’d just think about, I was just thinking today about how and the one thing—he never wanted to eat at the chain store, he wanted to find some local barbecue place, and we’re going off the beaten path and just to think I have just a few of those memories, you know, I’d just feel blessed about that.
But it’s to have learned on this campaign from him and watched him go through. I mean, this was—this was everything he was building for over the last 25 years. This was that election. You know, I’ve heard him, you know, when we have these election promos and I know some people think—oh, geez, he said the promos (ph) and I think you’re a voice-over for one of them and Brian and he said, “I hear Tim’s” and you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice for this election.
This campaign, this just meant everything to him. And he was so excited covering it every day. And every morning—just this morning, you know, we were talking about, you know, the floating of who was going to be Obama’s running mate—what have you heard, what have your heard this week, what happened with this Jim Johnson thing, what - you know.
And just breaking it down in 10 different ways, it’s just—I hate the fact that we have to figure out how to cover this campaign without him. It’s just not fair.
OLBERMANN: No, I know. I did say this before and I meant it. It’s as if you want to suggest as an option we just don’t have it now because it can’t possibly be what it was going to be without Tim - TODD: It’s not going to be the same thing. It’s not going to be the same thing. Who’s going to - you know, you sit here, and I’m sorry I’m sitting here, who’s going to hold these guys feet to the fire on Sunday morning. You know, I mean, this is an important election, we know it. And, you know, who’s going to do this? It’s just this gap. OLBERMANN: Barbara Walters said this this afternoon and in the middle of the immediate aftermath of this shock and this pain for us, this heartbreak in your building and in mine, she said something that was really bigger than that. Was this importance of this man to this election that the information that he would be able to gauge and gain for people is essential in the expression of American democracy and particularly this year when so many key and long evolving kind of choices will be placed in front of us and how do we as a—never mind as a television network or series of them—were just you and me as guys who look up to him, how do we as a nation fill that space? TODD: Look, I think it’s incredibly difficult because here was a person—look, we all know it, more people are watching this election than have watched and followed and sort of - Tim’s been the narrator in some ways. You know, he’s the moderator and the narrator, explaining every step of the way, every Tuesday night what this thing means. And trust me, everybody in Washington immediately will turn on that TODAY SHOW, Wednesday morning after these primaries because they got to know what does Russert think now. What does it mean now and what Russert thinks now? All of a sudden, everybody else is thinking that for rest of the day. I mean, he was setting the agenda, almost helping people understand this election and what each of these primaries meant or what that debate meant. And so, that’s going to be hard. But I’ll tell you, you know, Barbara Walters mentioned something else and I think we’d it earlier. You know, the other thing that we have to remember and we’re selfishly worrying about how we’re going to cover this election, this is a guy, we’re going to be mourning him over Father’s Day.
And this is the guy who—I mean, the neatest thing was to walk with him to a campaign event or in Iowa or in an airport and watch people stop him and thank him for the book, thank him for, “Big Russ and Me,” and sit there and Tim would get teary eyed and people would want a picture of Tim Russert, not the moderator of MEET THE PRESS, they want a picture of Tim Russert, the guy who brought together somebody with their father again or made them feel better about being a father again to their own son.
And so, it’s a remarkable legacy and to think that it’s, you know, on one hand, we’re sitting here talking about him as a news man but he was a rare news man who also touched a lot of people very personally in a way that I think that we won’t fully—we’re starting to fully appreciate that in the last four or five hours. I mean, I’m sure you looked at your e-mail, I looked at mine, and you see just from random people talking about these things, about how he touched them in ways we didn’t realize.
OLBERMANN: Beautifully spoken, Chuck. As I said to Gregory before at the end of the last hour, we got to work with him and that’s maybe the only thing we can take from this night that is not sad and mournful. We got to work with him.
TODD: I mean, like, we learned how to cover this campaign and I think—I heard Tom Brokaw say this—we have to, it’s almost we have to dedicate the rest of this campaign and how we cover it to him. OLBERMANN: All right. I’ll watch you, make sure you’re doing it and you watch me and make sure I’m doing it.
TODD: You got it, brother.
OLBERMANN: All right. Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: All right.
OLBERMANN: John Meachum is the editor of “Newsweek” magazine and he’s joining us here in the studio.
And let’s use the large picture first before we talk about the television man or the father even, that point about getting information to people and how—only after his passing today, I guess, did anybody really grasp just how important a vessel for getting the truth to people Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS, on the election coverage, on NBC NIGHTLY NEWS, how important he is and what a gap that is we need to fill in some way now?
JOHN MEACHUM, NEWSWEEK: And it’s a gap that has to be filled in his memory because, you know what he’d be saying right now—get out there and do it, light the fire. He’d be saying to you and Chuck and David, you know, this is—this is your mission, this is your time now. He, I think had such a devotion to—in a kind of civil confrontation, he was in an era of kind of mindless confrontationalism, he was civil about it, it was what you might call reality based confrontation. He laid out the facts, he hung people with their own words, he allowed people who had explanations to make them clearly and on the forum in the same volume, the same reach as when he was being prosecutorial in a good journalistic way. I think, his legacy has to be, that the rest of us who are in this business have to do everything we can to be Russertesque.
OLBERMANN: The enthusiasm that he had for this topic—there I knew I’d do it eventually—the enthusiasm he had for the topic seemed to be on the levels of the greatest partisans and adherence to a cause in the entire political cycle in our American political dialogue and yet that was an enthusiasm for the truth. We pointed that out and suggested that’s earlier in this broadcast.
That’s a rarity in almost any political era, but particularly this one. Do you have a sense of how he managed to maintain that and maintain both nonpartisanship and excitement and a fantastic enthusiasm? MEACHUM: I think he had the kind of joy and he talked about this—a kind of joy at—hey, a kid from Buffalo who’s interviewing the president of the United States being tough about it. It’s a very American story—the Russert story. The reason the book resonates is because it’s very American. The reason you’re saying the reaction today around the country and around the world to some extent, is he resonated because he was grateful. David Gregory was making this point earlier. He knew he was very good at what he did but he was very lucky and he was very fortunate. And he loved the country, he loved the political world and the social world, that enabled him to rise to the position to where he was. And my sense is, his affection for and gratitude to the values and the milieu that led him to great success in life was something to which he was devoted and wanted to perpetuate. He wanted to talk about the things that mattered.
We talked about how he loved the political tactics and story of the day, that’s exactly right. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with him were about religion, about ancient theology, about fairly recent theology. He was always fascinated by history. Anybody who’d ever been in an oil painting fascinated him. And he had the kind of - I think (INAUDIBLE) to his word - it was a great joy.
And there’s a little bit like the old - remember the Judy Garland, Mickey Roony (ph), hey, let’s put on a show. OLBERMANN: Exactly. What would he have thought of this news from Buffalo that they have lowered the flags in the municipal buildings to half staff? I’m overwhelmed by that.
MEACHUM: I think it’s very moving and I think he would have gotten, if I may, a great kick out of it. You know, I think he was the kind of fellow who, and I think we should all be this way, who’s never embarrassed to put his hand over his heart when they play the national anthem. He loved holidays.
I was on the program a couple of times on Memorial Days or July 4th. And those were always wonderful. Once at Christmas, I was on with Rick Warren and he had the navy band come in and play Christmas carols in the studio. I can’t imagine any other broadcaster is frankly doing that. And he loved the fact that that studio where MEET THE PRESS was done is where the Kennedy-Dixon debate. And it was just a - it wasn’t a hey, this is my studio; it was - hey, isn’t this cool. This is where this happened.
OLBERMANN: That’s it, isn’t this cool. Those are Tim Russert’s words.
John Meacham, managing editor of “Newsweek” - thank you for sharing this with us and helping us get through this.
MEACHUM: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We’ll continue our remembrances of the late Tim Russert after this.
KEITH OLBERMANN, ANCHOR: If in these times, a journalist who concentrated politics, who, on the occasion of his sudden death, could be remembered by people of all political persuasions and stripes in the most glowing and heartfelt of terms, it tells you exactly who the man was, and who the broadcaster was.
From Los Angeles comes a statement form Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, “I was stunned and saddened today to hear of the death of Tim Russert. Tim was a force of nature on the airwaves and it’s hard to believe that great voice has been silenced. His integrity, intelligence and fairness will be greatly missed and Sunday mornings will never be the same.”
In a prepared statement today, President Bush said about Tim Russert, quote, “As the longest serving host of the longest running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades, Tim was a tough and hard working newsman. He was always well informed and thorough with his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it.” Sentiment shared as well today by the men competing to become the next president. Sen. Obama speaking with NBC this afternoon, mixing, as did Mr. Bush, appreciation for Tim’s professional and personal attributes. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE: He was the
standard bearer for serious journalism. And he also happened to be a great guy who loved his family, who I think expressed the core values of this country as well as anybody has. And you know, I considered him not just a journalist but a friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And Sen. John McCain, befitting the mischievous bent both he and Tim have exhibited in their respective professions, could not resist adding some warmly self-deprecating humor to this remembrance today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESUMPTIVE REPUBLICAN NOMINEE: I once told
him that I hadn’t had so much fun since my last interrogation in prison camp. He was very tough and very fair and the one thing - many things that Tim Russert expected of you. But one of them was to be straightforward. And he could cut through a filibuster better than anybody I ever know. I know I tried it several times.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Gen. Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State kind enough now to join us now by telephone. Thank you for your time tonight, sir. We appreciate it greatly.
GEN. COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE (on the phone): Thank you,
Keith. Good evening.
OLBERMANN: As I said, the tributes from other broadcasters are one thing, but the people that - in this extraordinarily adversarial time of journalism and politics and all the mix that you know all too well. To hear such things said by people whom he covered tells you everything you need to know about this man, does it not?
POWELL: It does, and I join in all of the words of praise that are being uttered for Tim. I knew him very well. I knew him as a colleague in the political policy world and also as a good friend. And I appeared on his show many times under a number of difficult sets of circumstances as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State and in my private life as well with America’s Promise Alliance. And I could always expect Tim to come at me and to do it with the single purpose and that was to get the best information he could out of me to present the facts and the truth to the American people. And I always went on the show believing that the press and the person they are interviewing refers to the commentator and the person being interviewed and have the same goal, that is to inform the American people, and Tim was brilliant at that. And I always felt that I was treated fairly. I also was pleased to work with him on youth programs. We created America’s Promise Alliance for the youth back in 1997 and shortly thereafter, I asked Tim if he would serve on the board and he agreed, and he was an active member. He was concerned about young people. We all know how he felt and talked so proudly about his own son, Luke. But he was concerned about the sons and the daughters of all Americans, especially those most in need. So he was a great humanitarian, a great journalist and a great friend.
OLBERMANN: I don’t think that last point can be emphasized enough, sir.
The City of Washington, as you know, is a city of dinners and galas. And the only time Tim Russert would get away from his research and preparation to attend one of those eight times nightly things was for the charity event. And it wasn’t to show up or get information or work a source or show off, “Hey I’m the host of ‘Meet the Press’ and the chairman - the bureau chief of NBC News.” He went for the charity event. These things really, really mattered to him.
POWELL: He felt that he had an obligation to give back, not just to write a check for dinner but to share the celebrity status that he enjoyed in the city throughout the country, and to use that status to encourage other people to give back as well. And I think that will be something about Tim that I will always remember and my wife especially, who now chairs America’s Promise and also worked with Tim. OLBERMANN: How - we’ve been asking this question throughout the evening, is there going to be a discernible interruption in the amount of truth and information that America actually receives this year in advance of this election because of the loss of one man? Was he that skilled at his craft?
POWELL: I think there are many skilled journalists and we’re not going to be short of commentary. We’re not going to be short of dedicated journalists pulling out the information the American people need. But Tim was in a class of his own. But the world will move on and I think Tim, if he could speak to us, would say, “OK. Mourn and then get on with the job. Get on and get the story.” And that’s what I think your colleagues in the business will do.
OLBERMANN: Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former Secretary of State, we thank you for sharing your memories of Tim Russert with us tonight.
POWELL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: John Edwards, the former senator, Democratic presidential candidate, kind enough now to join us from Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Senator, thanks for your time tonight.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course,
OLBERMANN: The remembrances of this man from the people he covered as I suggested with Gen. Powell, there’s no deviation depending on which side of the political spectrum you are or where along that spectrum you happen to be, this man left the impression with almost everybody he touched that he was straight down the middle and fair. And these things are so extraordinary and so rare these days. Was that your experience as well?
EDWARDS: Oh, yes. You know, I went through two presidential campaigns, many, many presidential debates. And when the debates would be scheduled, you know the candidates, including me, would find out who was the moderator of the debate.
Any time I found out that Tim Russert was the moderator of the debate, I would think, “Good, that’s a good thing.” Because I knew none of the candidates would get away with their garbage that you couldn’t sort through with rhetoric and skating across the top, that he would cut through all that and get to the truth. And he would point out the differences between us, which is, if you’re a serious candidate for president, you want the differences to be pointed out.
And I just thought he was remarkable. He was the yardstick, Keith by which every other political journalist was measured. And I also think and I’ve heard others talking about this and I heard Gen. Powell just talking about it. I think that the thing that made him so effective was not just his extraordinary quality as a journalist and his ability to examine and cross-examine. He once told me that he treated his interviews in “Meet the Press” as a cross-examination and he was very, very good at it.
But I think people trusted him. You know, I think there was the sense that this is a guy that loved what he was doing. You could see it in his face and he was doing it because he believed it was the right thing to do for the country. Whether you were a Democrat or Republican, it didn’t make a difference and you could see his qualities as a human being. And those of us that dealt with him like you did and I did every day, including those of us who were subject to the cross-examination, we saw those human qualities. There was one very quick story. OLBERMANN: Please.
EDWARDS: He knew that in 1996 Elizabeth and I had lost our oldest son, Wade. And he called me in middle of the week one day, several years ago and asked me to be on the show with “Meet the Press” on Sunday. And I said, “Well, the problem is some of Wade’s old buddies are coming to Washington to see my family.” And he said, “Well, just bring them on. Bring them on to the show.” So we brought those boys with us to the show.
They sat through the interview. And then, at the very end of the show, he said - at the commercial break, he said, “Bring those boys up here. Let’s get them on national television.” So they were just beside themselves. You know, they were so excited about that. Every time I would see him after that, whether it was in Iowa or New Hampshire, at a debate or on “Meet the Press,” he would always say, “I remember those boys. I remember that so well and always think about them and think about your son Wade.”
This guy was an extraordinary human being. And the American people could see that and they could sense it in him, and that’s why they trusted him. And they should have trusted him.
OLBERMANN: And that connection to family, we’ve talked about this before, as Chuck Todd mentioned, to travel with him and see him stopped by people in airports, not because of “Meet the Press,” or political coverage, but because of the book about his father, Big Russ. And this connection that in some senses he helped fathers and sons reconnect with that book, was perhaps more moving and more important to him than the success of television or anything that - any influence that he might have had in politics, another rare quality among people, let alone public figures, no?
EDWARDS: Oh, absolutely. Listen, the way his face would light up when he would talk about his dad, Big Russ or talked about his son, Luke, you can’t fake that. He loved his family. He loved his dad. He loved his son. He loved his wife. I mean this is a guy who was, in so many ways, represented what America is supposed to be.
And all these things were packaged in the guy that showed up on “Meet the Press” every Sunday morning, that showed up to moderate presidential debates, that talked to the greatest leaders, not just in America, but in the world. And it’s why people responded to him the way they did. I mean, he was not just an extraordinary journalist; he was an extraordinary human being.
OLBERMANN: There was also - I always got the sense working with him and you got this at the debates or on “Meet the Press,” or anywhere else. There was this sense that he could separate himself from himself and talk about the moment that you were sharing with him that there was this, “Hey, look, we’re going to have a debate.” We’re going to have a presidential debate here, Senator. Isn’t this great?”
Were there moments like that? Were there those proverbial backstage moments in which time was sort of suspended or adversarial relations between the media and politician were suspended?
EDWARDS: I never - honestly, I never felt, except when he was grilling me, any form of adversarial relationship. And even when he was doing that, Keith, I respected him. You know, I spent 20 years in courtrooms and I knew - I saw lawyers who did their job in courtrooms and who were fine human beings, and he was exactly the same thing as a journalist. I mean he would do his job. He’d be tough. He’d be rough. And by the way of the one of things that unless you’ve been interviewed by him, you may not know, is he’d ask you a hard question and you’d give him an answer and he’d give you a look back. If you had done it enough, and I was interviewed by him many times - If you’d done it enough, you could see from the look on his face whether he thought you were actually answering his question and being honest or whether you were giving him a line and trying to avoid the question. He would give you that, “Oh, come on” look.
And you could see in his face whether he was going to follow up or if he’s going to continue to be tough or whether, in fact, he was thinking, “Well, that’s the truth. That’s what the guy thinks. I accept it, whether I agree with it or not.” I mean that’s the quality he had as a journalist and an interviewer.
OLBERMANN: There were rules that Tim Russert abided by in life and in interviews. There seemed to be some acknowledgement that there was a connection on a human level with everybody he interviewed. And whatever the sudden presentation of a quote, Senator, you said this in 1988, there was always an opportunity for - it wasn’t just the, “Aha, we caught you in a contradiction or a slight change to policy,” and then cut to commercial. It was, “How do you explain this?” And then you had as much time as you needed to, didn’t you?
EDWARDS: Absolutely. I mean - and that was a big thing. I mean at the end of the day, this was not a guy who was trying to catch you. He was not looking for that “aha” moment.
He was looking for the truth and he wanted to give - he wanted to put the conflicting information in front of you, the person was being interviewed, particularly if you’re in my case, a candidate for president of the United States or vice president of the United States and give you a chance to explain, not to him but to the American people why this conflict existed and what your explanation for it was. And then they could judge whether or not that it made sense or it didn’t make sense.
And he always gave you - that was, you know, whenever you were about to go on the show, I would say to my wife and people who work for me, “The thing I always knew about Russert is he’d ask hard questions but he would never cut me off.” He would give me a chance to say my piece which is exactly the way it ought to be.
OLBERMANN: Former senator and former presidential candidate John Edwards joining us with warm remembrances of Tim Russert. Again, we’re sharing the sadness and the laughs at the same time which is I guess the best we can hope under these circumstances. Senator, as always, thank you for your time.
EDWARDS: Keith, God bless all of you because I know this is a tremendous loss for the NBC family and among the rest of us. I want you all to know we’re thinking about you.
OLBERMANN: Well, our great thanks for that too, sir. Be well. We’re joined in the studio now by the host of the “Charlie Rose Show” on PBS, Charlie Rose. Good evening, Charlie. It’s good to see you.
CHARLIE ROSE, HOST, “CHARLIE ROSE SHOW”: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this moment
at least to remember someone as well as we can who touched all of our lives.
OLBERMANN: And he did. And as a man who does that interview format and every day for year upon year does it so exceptionally well, there’s a secret locked in Tim Russert’s work of how he managed to come through the camera to people at home, that I’d love your insight into. ROSE: Well, I think you understand it. It is authenticity and passion. He knew that this was what he was born to do. He had grown into the broadcasting role but he had this passion for both the prose and poetry of politics.
And he was an authentic man. You knew he loved being there and you knew that he knew what he was doing and you knew that he wanted to share it with you. I always thought that Tim was driven by curiosity. He wanted to know because he liked politics so much and therefore he liked the people in politics, whether he agreed with them or not. But he wanted to know what you knew, if you were his guest and what made you tick and how do you justify what you have said in contrast with something that someone has else has said, but more importantly what you have said at an earlier time. So the best at what he did do what he did, which is prepare, you know, know your stuff. And when you go on, make sure, as John Edwards said from my home state, make sure you give the person an opportunity to tell you what he knows and tries to justify what he has said.
OLBERMANN: The inspiration to people who are following him now, those of us who have to try to pick up to some degree and many of us just try to pick up all of many things that he did, just for NBC, let alone for the country. But what is the lesson here in terms of our political discourse and in terms of how to follow and pay tribute to Tim’s work? ROSE: Something I suspect you know a lot about - hard work. Prepare. Leave no stone unturned. Love the game. I mean Tim was passionate about finding out stuff. I mean what I’ll never forget on this evening is that how much we’re all going to miss him. We’re going to know and feel this not only the shock of today but going to feel it on Sunday morning when we watch “Meet the Press.” I mean NBC will continue and “Meet the Press” will continue. But there will be something missing and what was missing was he was there for us, doing everything that he could to find out everything he could about something that was important to all of us, the future of the country. And we’ll miss that curiosity and that capacity to leave no stone unturned to find out.
OLBERMANN: I’m so moved that we saw Bob Schieffer, who not only did a series of interviews throughout the late evening in Paris talking about his rival for air time and success and I’m not suggesting that Bob should have been snarling behind the desk somewhere complaining about Russert’s this or Russert’s that. But what kind of tribute is it to see one of your rivals stay up until the middle of the night to appear on the network that you served and he did not, to pay tribute to you. I mean I’m overwhelmed by it.
ROSE: I am too. But I think it’s borne - that I think it borne out of deep respect. People who - whether it’s sports or politics or journalism, you know, the people that you want to stay up late to pay tribute to are the people who first of all did it with remarkable skill. And secondly, who brought some human quality to the job and therefore you want to serve that idea. And when I think about Tim this evening, I think about that his legacy is not going to be all we’re talking about. It is going to be, you know, this remarkable son that he loved so much and who carries forward all the passion that his father gave him and the curiosity his father gave him.
OLBERMANN: The timing of this on the weekend of Father’s Day when here’s a man who had brought so much to the relationship between fathers and sons in talking about his own father in his book and who was traveling back from Italy, had just arrived and went right back to work because he was celebrating his son’s graduation from Boston College. The timing of this, just on the personal, never mind the political level of this exceptional, extraordinary political campaign had just moved from that primary season into the actual pennant race if you will. There’s an irony and a cruelty to this that is almost indescribable. ROSE: And I don’t know how to describe it. You’re right, it is indescribable, I mean that it comes at this time. I remember when he came to my program to talk about his book. He was anxious that the book be on - that the interview be on before Father’s Day because his father meant so much. And I think that what that book, “Big Russ and Me” did for all of us - it made us think about our father. I mean it certainly made me think about my father and what he meant to me. And Tim telling me as he does even on tonight’s program where we talk about - we run a series of interviews he did, on 15 times over 15 years and talk about what makes him tick, but also how his father didn’t know how to express love to him until they began later to really explore that idea. And he helped us understand fathers and he helped us understand how to tell them we love them and how to receive their love. And I think that’s why he was such a remarkable father himself. I mean one of the great moments I have, as I’ve said before, is when he came at such pride in wanting me to meet his son, that Luke was so much a part of his dreams for the future.
OLBERMANN: “Big Russ and Me,” by the way, Charlie, as of tonight, it moved up to number six on the Amazon.com sales list. So once again, Tim Russert gets his message out on Father’s Day, one way or the other. I guess that bit of timing is not tragic but just poignant. Charlie Rose of “The Charlie Rose Show” on PBS thanks for coming in. We appreciate your perspective and your remembering of Tim tonight. ROSE: I’m honored you would let me join your program. Thank you so much.
OLBERMANN: My honor, sir.
Let’s go back to our Washington bureau, the other colleague to whom Tim Russert referred to as K.O., NBC news correspondent, Kelly O’Donnell, and I’m honored that I share that with you, Kelly.
KELLY O’DONNELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Those words will be such a measure of encouragement and such a wonderful memory for me. His enthusiastic way to send us out to do our jobs and work our beats, “The go get them, K.O.”
And I think for our viewers who know Tim and certainly feel they know him personally and are learning more about him through the stories we’re all sharing tonight. I think you can get a picture of what’s been happening in our Washington bureau. It is that kind of coming together like a family. Everyone stayed all evening. The place is ten times busier than it normally would be. And the shock of the early part of the day has begun to recede just a bit where we’re telling a few more of the funny stories about Tim, thinking about what he would be thinking of all of these commemorations. And we’re sharing some conversation with colleagues and thinking, wow, the interviews he would want to do in heaven, if you’ll allow that. The political questions that he has perhaps for great political figures who left this earth before he did and the question of, “Does he already know the outcome of this election now,” if you can allow yourself those moments to think about where life goes beyond this point.
So for our viewers who know him, I thought that getting a sense of how when any family suffers a loss and people come over and they bring food and they tell stories - that’s what’s happening in Washington bureau tonight. And I’m on the campaign trail most of the time, and I see people in the airports, as I’m sure you do. And one of the people they always ask me about is Tim Russert. “Oh, love Tim Russert.” “Oh, my Sunday is built around Tim Russert.”
And I’ve always felt like a sort of ambassador on his behalf because he’s one of the most treasured faces of NBC News. And it’s always a pleasure to be able to tell people, “Yes, he really is a great guy, and yes, he really does enjoy this.”
And he’ll be glad to know that you enjoy the program. And that’s always been a pleasant duty when you’re out on the road and you’re representing our company to be able to meet people who do in fact feel like they have known Tim personally. And I’m sure they’re feeling that tonight, too, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And that particular sense of affection and partnership. Tim Russert was the viewer’s partner in this equation.
O’DONNELL: Very much so.
OLBERMANN:: That’s - not a lot of us even get close to that. O’DONNELL: I think he really felt in a humility we’re talking about that he possessed, even with all of his celebrity and success, there really was that sense of, he was a conduit. He would do the homework, but he would be that way that viewers would be able to learn things, that newsmakers would be tested, that the process would hopefully be elevated because you had to get through “Meet the Press” to get to the White House.
And I was on the program last weekend with our political colleagues and I’m deeply moved by the fact that I was part of his final show. And I said, “When are you having the candidates on?” And with the big smile he said, “Open invitation, any time they want to be here.” That enthusiasm that he would feel and the excitement and batting around who might be running mates. We enjoyed talking about that and trying to figure out what the strategy would be or who the names would be and would we be surprised by it.
His enthusiasm, and it comes to mind when he phoned with me my campaign assignments many, many, many, many months ago. And I picked up the phone and without even saying hello, he said, “Put your seat belt on.” That was the kind of enthusiasm he had for sending us out to cover these campaigns and he knew we shared it. And I think that - I hope that journalists, our team and others, will take from all of this conversation tonight, that sense that you can be a kind person, a thoughtful person and tough at the same time. You could be both and he embodied that. And I think it’s a wonderful, wonderful standard for all of us to try to emulate.
And I would hope that for viewers who, at times may be feeling that, “Oh, this campaign has gone on too long. Or “Oh, it’s so tiring.” Some viewers might have that sense of fatigue, to think about how Tim brought a refreshing and I think, an enlightened perspective about it. And he did have the balance of keeping it light and fun in certain respects, but also always very mindful of how important this process was and that we could all play a part in holding these candidates to account and to inspire viewers and voters to also do their own homework. I think his homework was impeccable for every show that he did. And you’d see the files on the desk. You’d see the box in the corner with the label. And I was with Sen. Lindsey Graham last night. He was traveling with Sen. McCain and we were at the hotel room where the campaign was staying. He was expected to be a guest this Sunday and he was saying, “I’ve got my homework to do. I’ve got to prepare for Tim.” And you knew that he was excited to appear and that people really felt it was an event.
And as I’m sure with you, my mornings were always built around seeing “Meet the Press.” And so I think as we’re remembering him in our personal way and all of the guests you’ve had tonight who are from the political world and the journalism world. I just keep coming back to our viewers who I think are sharing with us the sense of loss and shock but also smiling at what a wonderful man we’re getting to know through these hours of talking about who he was as a father and a friend and as a journalist.
And you know, we were all so privileged. I certainly know the sense of loss that I feel. But, wow, how lucky we were to get to work with him and to learn from him. And I’ve got homework to do. OLBERMANN: I know you do. We all do here, too. And your point is perfectly taken. When I was a kid, my folks bought baseball tickets behind first base at Yankee Stadium so they could say - they told me so I could say someday, “He got to see Mickey Mantel play for the Yankees.” O’DONNELL: So true.
OLBERMANN: Yes, I got to work with Tim Russert, as did you. And our viewers shared much of that experience. It was what you saw on TV. He was what - he was who you saw, who you think you saw, and that was the man.
OLBERMANN: Kelly O’Donnell of our Washington bureau, remembering Tim Russert tonight. All right, K-O. We will take later on. Go get them, as he said.
O’DONNELL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Kelly.
It has been such an extraordinary day to think of a man who was boundless in his generosity to those he worked with and is remembered by the people who he theoretically was in competition with. There was no competition. You heard Bob Schieffer. Quotes from George Stephanopoulos, from Charlie Gibson, Barbara Walters, saying what a loss for the country this is.
People in a very competitive industry taking no competition into consideration tonight but remembering what an inspiration, a moral force in an industry in a political environment Tim Russert was. We were all fortunate to have him. It was far too brief, but his imploration to all of us was, “Go get them.” And that could mean a lot of different things. I hope it means something to you.