Sunday, June 15, 2008


Most readers have heard of the passing of journalist Tim Russert last Friday. The NBC News Washington bureau chief, and host of the long-running Sunday morning news-talk program Meet The Press, collapsed while at work last Friday afternoon. He was rushed to Sibley Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of a heart attack.

In the hours that followed his death, the news channels began the litany of tributes. Personally, I tend to ignore them. Not that I doubt the sincerity or the genuine grief of the journalists who reflect on the life of their colleague. They are as human as everyone else. It is merely an indication of how jaded I have become, after months, after years, of watching people with little other than their poise or good looks telling me what to think. We don't really get our news on television from "journalists" anymore. What we see on the talking head channels are "commentators" and "political analysts." These are just other words for "guys with an opinion." Join the club, guys.

But to hear Mom tell it on the phone the other day -- and my folks' opinion of the mainstream media is not much better than mine -- Russert was "one of a kind," and his Sunday morning show was one of their favorites. He asked the tough questions, and he probed the heart of his guest. But the point is, he didn't do it to play to the audience, but in a search for the truth. In so doing, he may have been one of the few journalists out there, who assumed the viewer at home was intelligent enough to decide some things for himself.

People will talk about Russert's link to his "roots" -- his working-class Irish Catholic upbringing, in a rough-around-the-edges place like South Buffalo, in upstate New York. They'll talk about Big Russ & Me, the 2004 book about growing up and coming of age in that world with his father. There were many letters written to Russert in response to that book, so many that he incorporated them into a 2005 sequel volume Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons. It is worth remembering on Father's Day, that what made him special was not his qualities as a journalist, but that he knew what it meant to have, and to be, a father. It is that quality, more than his political career, or his rise to prominence on television, that speaks to his character.

Russert was an occasional Mass attendant on Saturday evenings at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown, where I was sacristan in the early 90s. While I was never acquainted with him, his was one of the familiar faces there. In that house of God, he stood in no limelight, but in the presence of his Maker. This is who he was. This will be what matters in the end. To remember men like Russert, is to calculate the true measure of a man. He lived without apology, without pretense, in a town that rarely values such quiet nobility.

All the more reason, perhaps, why his fellows will miss him.

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