DC at Night

DC at Night

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Celebrating Tim Russert

The Tim Russert exhibit at the Newseum
There have been only a few really great TV newsmen. The list would have to start with Edward Murrow. Of course, it would include Walter Cronkite. Many would name some combination of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings. The most recent candidate would probably be Tim Russert, who in 17 years as the host of Meet the Press set the standard for Sunday morning news shows.

Russert, who died in 2008, had a hard-hitting interview style and an ability to cut through political spin that made him one of the country's most respected journalists.

His legacy is recalled in the current Newseum exhibit Inside Tim Russert's Office: If It's Sunday, It's 'Meet the Press, which recreates Russert's NBC Washington office much as it looked when he died of a heart attack while preparing for his show. The exhibit will be on view until June 19.

Russert had 5 major passions - his family, his faith, journalism, politics and sports - all of which are reflected in the exhibit. After every broadcast, Russert would call his father, whom he called Big Russ, to find out his thoughts about the airing. When his son Luke decided to become a newsman, Russert imparted this advice: "Just be yourself. Pretend you're talking to me. Don't get too fancy. Don't talk that Washington talk."

While he had a deserved reputation for fairness and respect for his subjects, Russert was not afraid to ask difficult questions that often challenged those he interviewed. One of his mottoes was "I don't believe you can make tough decisions unless you can answer tough questions.".

On his messy desk were all the magazines, newspapers, books, and notes he would need for his broadcast. His bookshelves were filled with books, many from guests that had appeared on the show. Also on display is the collection of signed baseballs he kept in his desk drawer, as well as pictures of his favorite interview subjects including Pope John Paul II.

There is also a pennant from Russert's favorite sports team, the Buffalo Bills. Russert described his relationship with the NFL franchise this way: "Meet the Press knows that I try my best to be objective and nonpartisan, but when it comes to the Buffalo Bills I can't help myself."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
One of the best stories about Russert occurred during NBC's coverage of the 2004 election night in the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Eschewing fancy gadgets, Russert used a small, simple white board, on which at one point he wrote the phrase Florida! Florida! Florida!, accurately predicting that whichever candidate won that state would win the presidency. When he died, fans created a memorial outside of the NBC studio in Washington. Many of the fans left their tributes on small white boards, some of which are included as part of the Newseum exhibit. Here is what one said: "Because of you, I am a better citizen. Aren't we all. Thank you."

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