Look for Tim Russert to be front and center at the new Nationals Park after it was announced last week that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass for 45,000 Washington-area faithful in mid-April.
“I saw John Paul II at Yankee Stadium, so it’s only fitting that I see Pope Benedict at the Nationals’ ballpark,” said NBC’s “Meet the Press” host, who is always good for a pope tale or two.
“When John Paul II first came to Washington — I think it was in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president — I brought my dad, ‘Big Russ,’ to the White House — you know, this guy from Buffalo. First of all, to be on the lawn of the White House and observe the president and the pope. But he was very taken by the day because he was seated next to Colonel Sanders. That made a big impression,” Mr. Russert laughed during an interview Nov. 13.
“But then the pope came down the aisle and shook hands, and my dad had these forearms from working hard as a truck driver and a sanitation worker, and he just locked the pope in this vice,” at which point Mr. Russert pleaded, “Dad, unhand him!”
We caught up with the popular Sunday morning news host because Nov. 14, flanked by newsmakers from the past six decades, Mr. Russert celebrated 60 years of “Meet the Press” during a starstudded gala at the Newseum’s “Great Hall of News.”
“It’s an extraordinary history, the longest-running television program in the history of the world — news, entertainment or sports, it’s the one fixture,” noted Mr. Russert. “I had the opportunity to actually spend some time with Lawrence Spivak when I took over the show 16 years ago. I went to his apartment [at the Sheraton-Park Hotel], which was a shrine to ‘Meet the Press.’
“And I asked him a simple question: When he founded the show, what was the mission back in the 1940s? And he said to learn as much as you can about your guest and his or her position on the issues and then take the other side. And do that in a persistent way, but a civil way. And you will develop an expectation for the program that will, in effect, be timeless. And it was great advice.”
Mr. Russert added he’s “either watched or read all 3,000 transcripts” of “Meet the Press” dating back to 1947, to “get a sense of the institutional history.”
“I view it very much as a national treasure, and I am the temporary custodian and try to take care of it, and hopefully pass it off in good shape one day,” he said.
Tim Russert, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” for more than 15 years, attended the Nov. 14 gala celebrating the program’s 60 years of broadcasting.