Timothy John Russert II (May 7, 1950 – June 13, 2008) was an American television journalist and lawyer who appeared for more than 16 years as the longest-serving moderator of NBC's Meet the Press. He was an NBC News' Senior Vice President, Washington bureau chief and also hosted the eponymous CNBC/MSNBC weekend interview program Tim Russert. He was a frequent correspondent and guest on NBC's The Today Show and Hardball. Russert covered several presidential elections, and he presented the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey on the NBC Nightly News during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Time Magazine included Russert in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008. Russert was posthumously revealed as a thirty-year source of columnist Robert Novak.
He received his B.A. in 1972 from John Carroll University and a Juris Doctor with honors from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1976. Russert commented on Meet the Press that he went to Woodstock, "in a Buffalo Bills jersey with a case of beer." While in law school, an official from his alma mater, John Carroll University, called Russert to ask if he could book some concerts for the school as he had done while a student. He agreed, but said he would need to be paid because he was running out of money to pay for law school. One concert that Russert booked was headlined by a then-unknown singer, Bruce Springsteen, who charged $2,500 for the concert appearance. Russert told this story to Jay Leno when he was a guest on the The Tonight Show on NBC on June 6, 2006.
Prior to becoming host of Meet the Press, Russert worked as a special counsel, and later as chief of staff, to Democratic U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. In 1983 he became the counsel to Democratic Governor Mario Cuomo of New York State. He was hired by NBC News' Washington bureau the following year and became bureau chief by 1989.
Russert testified again in the trial on February 7, 2007. At the trial, the prosecution asserted that a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent had called Russert regarding Russert's phone call with Libby, and that Russert had told the agent that the subject of Plame had not come up during his conversation with Libby. Posthumously Russert was revealed as a thirty-year source of columnist Robert Novak, whose original article revealed Plame's affiliation with the CIA. In a Slate.com article, Jack Shafer argued that "the Novak-Russert relationship poses a couple of questions. [...] Russert's long service as an anonymous source to Novak...requires further explanation. In a posthumous commentary, the L.A. Times wrote that, "Like former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Russert was one of the high-level Washington journalists who came out of the Libby trial looking worse than shabby." The article's author, Tim Rutten, argued that although Russert and NBC had claimed that these conversations were protected by journalistic privilege, "it emerged under examination [that] Russert already had sung like a choirboy to the FBI concerning his conversation with Libby--and had so voluntarily from the first moment the Feds contacted him. All the litigation was for the sake of image and because the journalistic conventions required it."
"I don't think the public was, at that time, particularly receptive to hearing it," Russert says. "Back in October of 2002, when there was a debate in Congress about the war in Iraq--three-fourths of both houses of Congress voted with the president to go. Those in favor were so dominant. We don't make up the facts. We cover the facts as they were."
Folkenflik went on to write:
Russert's remarks would suggest a form of journalism that does not raise the insolent question from outside polite political discourse--so, if an administration's political foes aren't making an opposing case, it's unlikely to get made. In the words of one of my former editors, journalists can read the polls just like anybody else.
In the 2007 PBS documentary, Buying the War, Russert commented, "My concern was, is that there were concerns expressed by other government officials. And to this day, I wish my phone had rung, or I had access to them."
A lifelong fan of the Buffalo Bills football team, Russert often closed Sunday broadcasts during the football season with a statement of encouragement for the franchise. The team released a statement on the day of his passing, saying that listening to Russert's "Go Bills" exhortation was part of their Sunday morning game preparation.. He once prayed publicly on the show with his father when the Bills were going for the Super Bowl for the fourth consecutive time before Super Bowl XXVIII. On July 23, 2008, U.S. Route 20 leading to the Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York was renamed the "Timothy J. Russert Highway".
Russert was also a Buffalo Sabres fan and appeared on an episode of Meet the Press next to the Stanley Cup during a Sabres playoff run. While his son was attending Boston College, he often ended Meet the Press with a mention of the success of various Boston College sports teams.
Their son, Luke, graduated from Boston College in 2008. He hosts the XM Radio show 60/20 Sports with James Carville, and was an intern with ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. On July 31, 2008, NBC News announced that Luke Russert will serve as an NBC News correspondent covering the youth perspective on the 2008 United States presidential election.
Russert, a devout Catholic, said many times he had made a promise to God to never miss Sunday Mass if his son were born healthy. In his writing and in his news reporting, Russert spoke openly and fondly of his Catholic school education and of the role of the Catholic Church in his life. He was an outspoken supporter of Catholic education on all levels. He said that his father, a sanitation worker who never finished high school, "worked two jobs all his life so his four kids could go to Catholic school, and those schools changed my life." He also spoke warmly of Catholic nuns who taught him. "Sister Mary Lucille founded a school newspaper and appointed me editor and changed my life," he said. Teachers in Catholic schools "taught me to read and write, but also how to tell right from wrong."
Russert also contributed his time and to numerous Catholic charities. He was particularly devoted and concerned for the welfare of street kids in the United States and children whose lives were lost in street violence. He told church workers attending the 2005 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering that "if there's an issue that Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals can agree on, it's our kids."
Prior to his death, he had an audience with Pope Benedict XVI during his trip to Italy. He was also scheduled to give the Catholic Common Ground Initiative's Philip J. Murnion Lecture on June 27, 2008 at The Catholic University of America.
Russert's longtime friend and physician, Dr. Michael Newman, said that his asymptomatic coronary artery disease had been controlled with medication and exercise, and that he had performed well on a stress test in late April. An autopsy performed on the day of his death determined that his history of coronary artery disease led to a myocardial infarction (heart attack) with the immediate cause being an occlusive coronary thrombus in the left anterior descending artery resulting from a ruptured cholesterol plaque.
On the evening of his death, the entire, nearly commercial-free half hour of NBC Nightly News was dedicated to Russert's memory, featuring previous news segments with Russert and interviews with some of his colleagues. The broadcast also included tributes to Russert by U.S. President George W. Bush and presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama.
McCain said Russert was "at the top of his profession" and "a man of honesty and integrity", adding that "he was hard, but he was always fair." Obama was quoted as saying "there wasn't a better interviewer in television nor a more thoughtful analyst of our politics", while noting his friendship with the journalist. Bush issued a statement on the White House website saying he and First Lady Laura Bush were "deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert" and remarking that "he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades." Former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton released a joint statement saying Russert "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 those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him." Keith Olbermann, Ethel Kennedy, Bob Schieffer, Tom Brokaw, Bob Woodward and others offered tributes during the program as well.
Dateline NBC also devoted its entire broadcast to his early life and political and journalistic career in television. MSNBC, the cable network at which he had spent much time working, devoted its weekend coverage exclusively to interviews and analyses of Russert and his impact. The following Sunday's edition of Meet the Press was devoted entirely to a remembrance of Russert, with the moderator's chair empty and Tom Brokaw leading a discussion among several of Russert's colleagues, including James Carville, Mary Matalin, Gwen Ifill, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mike Barnicle, and Maria Shriver.
Other major US news agencies, including CBS, ABC, CNN and Fox News spent large segments of their programming on June 13 reporting about Russert's life and career. The BBC also reported on his death. Statements were made by journalists from a variety of news organizations, including CBS News anchor emeritus Walter Cronkite, Washington Post columnists Carl Bernstein and Sally Quinn, and conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh.
Bruce Springsteen, a friend of Russert's, gave an on-stage tribute to Russert while performing in Cardiff, Wales on June 14, calling him "an important unreplacable voice in American journalism" and offering condolences to his family. Springsteen dedicated the performance of "Thunder Road" to Russert's memory. The song received a resounding applause from the audience. Springsteen also performed a few days later, via live feed, at Russert's televised Kennedy Center memorial service.
On June 17, 2008, the United States House of Representatives debated House Resolution 1275, "Honoring the life of Timothy John Russert, II, public servant, political analyst, and author. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Brian Higgins and co-sponsored by 89 other representatives, and was passed unopposed (395-0).
Some journalists criticized the amount of media coverage that Russert's death received. Jack Shafer of Slate called NBC's coverage a "never-ending video wake." Washington Post writer Paul Farhi also expressed disapproval, noting that a print journalist would likely not have received similar attention. Chicago Tribune columnist Julia Keller questioned the volume of coverage as well as the labeling of Russert's death as "a national tragedy."
Interview: Max Brodsky and David Ferris discuss their game Tim Russert Bingo played during Class Day at Harvard
Jun 09, 2005; MELISSA BLOCK All Things Considered (NPR) 06-09-2005 Interview: Max Brodsky and David Ferris discuss their game Tim Russert Bingo...
REP. HIGGINS, MAYOR BROWN, ASSEMBLYMAN SCHROEDER, COUNTY LEGISLATOR KENNEDY UNVEIL TRAILBLAZING SIGNS TO HONOR TIM RUSSERT
Aug 06, 2008; Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y. (27th CD), issued the following news release: Congressman Brian Higgins joined Mayor Byron W. Brown...