Luke Russert, whose eloquent eulogy for his father, the late NBC News journalist Tim Russert, moved many Americans last month, will join the network as a correspondent, NBC News announced Thursday.
Russert, 22, a May graduate of Boston College with a degree in history and communications, will cover the youth vote through the national political conventions and the general election, the network said. Russert said he would be an at-large correspondent reporting for many of NBC’s outlets, including “NBC Nightly News,” TODAY, MSNBC and msnbc.com.
NBC News made the announcement in rolling out its plans for more than 200 hours of live coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions next month.
“Reporting the stories will be the best team in the business, and we welcome Luke Russert to that group,” NBC News President Steve Capus said. “Never before in an election cycle has so much attention turned to the youth vote, and Luke will bring a unique perspective to covering it.”
Russert, co-host of a sports talk show on XM satellite radio with political consultant James Carville, said in an interview that he was “excited to try out television,” the medium that made a household name of his father, who oversaw NBC News’ political coverage as Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press” for nearly two decades.
After Tim Russert died of a heart attack June 13, Luke Russert’s poise and composure in talking about his father impressed NBC executives. Russert said they saw an opportunity to “focus on youth issues and things that are [relevant] to young people, not only in this election cycle but also in life.”
“We are the future,” Russert said.
‘It’s not going to be easy’
At the same time, Russert said, he recognized that skeptics might question his credentials as a 22-year-old radio sports expert with little experience in television.
“Coming from radio, I don’t think the transition is as difficult,” he said. “It’s not as if I’m just being plucked from the ocean.”
Still, “it’s not going to be easy, at all,” he said. “I’m going to have to work extremely hard, and I’m going to have to make good decisions. But it’s something I’ve been prepared to do.”
Much of that preparation came from growing up talking news and politics at the dinner table with his father, a famous political junkie, and his mother, the celebrated magazine writer Maureen Orth.
“I had 22 years of advice from my father, and I still get advice from my mother every day,” Russert said. “If you ask if I’m ready to do it, I’ve been answering their questions for that amount of time. I can definitely take from what they asked me.”
And he said he understood that some might challenge his claim to a network news job as simply the product of his famous name — “I’ve already heard that,” he said.
“I definitely respect their opinion,” Russert said. “They’re taking a chance on me, and I’m very humble and grateful for it. At the end of the day, I am my own hardest critic.
“... I’m not trying to be my father. He’s irreplaceable. I’m simply trying to do something that I think there’s a real niche for, that there’s a calling for, that has to do with youth, not just in the election but in politics from now on.”
Brokaw welcomes appointment
Tom Brokaw, the former anchor of “NBC Nightly News” who succeeded Tim Russert, a longtime friend, as moderator of “Meet the Press,” said he had no doubt that Luke Russert could do the job.
“Luke, in a way, has been preparing for this moment all his life,” Brokaw said. “He grew up in the loving care of two world-class journalists.”
“He’ll do fine, but more than the rest of us, he’ll miss the sage counsel — and fatherly pride — of his dad,” Brokaw said.
Russert could even pop up from time to time on his father’s old show.
“I’ll try not to call him Baby Luke, and he’ll try to remember not to call me Uncle Tom,” Brokaw said.
Betsy Fischer, Tim Russert’s longtime executive producer on “Meet the Press,“ said she “watched Luke grow up as a part of the NBC family, so it’s especially thrilling for me to be able to welcome him in a professional capacity.”
Fischer said she remembered running into Russert as a young boy. Even then, she said, he showed “an early fascination with and love for politics.”
“I remember a trip he took with us in 1995 to interview Ross Perot for ‘Meet the Press’ live from Dallas,” Fischer said. “Like his dad, even when the pressure was on, he always kept a sense of humor about the situation.
“When Perot showed up for the interview, he was met by a mini-version of himself — a young Luke Russert sporting a Ross Perot mask. ... Perot got the biggest kick out of it.”
‘Study hard, keep your honor and laugh often’
Russert said he didn’t yet know what his first story would be, but he said he already has definite ideas of what he wants to cover, and how.
“I want to introduce people to young people across the country,” he said.
A typical report might be the story of “a 22-year-old veteran who just got back from Iraq who, perhaps, lives in Albuquerque [in New Mexico], which is going to be a very influential state this year in the presidential election. Is he going to vote at all? Who does he want to vote for? He might be married with a wife — who is she like?
“Stories like that, about voting groups and voting blocs that people like to look past. I think in this year, where it’s going to be a close election and with Senator Obama supposedly garnering all this attention from youth, I think there’s a lot of areas we could explore.”
Because the NBC deal came together quickly, he said, he hasn’t had a chance to run his ideas past his new colleagues.
But he knows what his father would say: “Study hard, keep your honor and laugh often.”
“I think he’d be proud of me,” Russert said. “I think that he would very much want me to work as hard as I possibly can, to do the best I can.”