He grilled politicians like a lawyer at cross-examination
Journalist Tim Russert quizzed and cajoled the most powerful figures in the United States for 17 years on the weekly current affairs program Meet The Press.
Mr. Russert, 58, was NBC’s Washington bureau chief and host of the Sunday TV program, where with his burly figure and arching eyebrows he pressed top politicians and bureaucrats on the hottest issues of the day.
He was recording voiceovers in NBC’s Washington newsroom yesterday for tomorrow’s edition of Meet the Press when he collapsed and died. Although initial reports were of a heart attack, the doctor who treated him said the cause of death couldn’t immediately be determined, the network said.
U.S. President George W. Bush and his wife Laura said they were “saddened” by the news of Mr. Russert’s death.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain called Mr. Russert “the pre-eminent polit- ical journalist of his generation.” Democratic candidate Barack Obama said he was “grief-stricken” by the news.
“There wasn’t a better interviewer in television, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics,” Mr. Obama said. “And he was also one of the finest men I knew, somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family.”
Jeff Immelt, chairman and chief executive of NBC’s parent company, General Electric Co., called Mr. Russert “a giant in journalism,” praising his “enduring honesty and integrity.”
Mr. Russert had just returned from a vacation to Italy with his wife, Vanity Fair writer Maureen Orth, and his son, Luke.
Born May 7, 1950 in Buffalo, New York, Mr. Russert credited his Jesuit education for much of his success. He graduated from John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, and earned a law degree from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland.
He used his training as a lawyer to break down and examine public officials’ comments, sometimes to their dismay.
Mr. Russert took over as anchor of Meet the Press on Dec. 8, 1991, and turned the show into the most-watched Sunday morning interview program in the U.S. and the most-quoted news program in the world, according to NBC’s website.
“I think he elevated broadcast coverage” of politics, said colleague Tom Brokaw, the veteran NBC anchor.
Mr. Russert was also a bestselling author. Big Russ and Me described his childhood in Buffalo, New York, and his relationship with his father, who worked as a garbage collector.
He also wrote The Wisdom of Our Fathers, inspired by letters he received from children talking about their relationship with their fathers.
Mr. Russert became a news subject himself in 2007, when he provided key testimony at the trial of Vice-President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Mr. Libby was accused of lying about the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity after her husband criticized the Bush administration.
Mr. Libby said he had learned of Ms. Plame’s secret identity from Mr. Russert. But Mr. Russert testified he did not discuss Ms. Plame with him. Mr. Libby was eventually convicted.