In Depth

Washington Figures Pay Tribute to Russert

Official Washington reacted with shock and disbelief at the sudden death of “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert on Friday.

As Washington bureau chief of NBC News and host of the premier Sunday morning network talk show, Mr. Russert was closely watched in the capitol. Despite always tough questioning, a guest spot on the program was about the highest honor politicians could hope for in network TV, and they fought for a spot.

“Laura and I are deeply saddened,” President George W. Bush said in a statement. “Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him.

“As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews, and he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it,” the president said.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain described himself as “very saddened” by the news.

“Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the preeminent political journalist of his generation.

“He was truly a great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills and everything about politics and America. He was just a terrific guy. I was proud to call him a friend, and in the coming days, we will pay tribute to a life whose contributions to us all will long endure,” Sen. McCain added.

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, described himself as “grief-stricken.”

“I’ve known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the [Democratic National] Convention in 2004. He’s somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend,” Sen. Obama said. “There wasn’t a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew. Somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family. I am grief-stricken with the loss, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And I hope that, even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called Mr. Russert “a warm and gracious family man with a great zest for life and an unsurpassed passion for his work. His rise from working-class roots to become a well-respected leader in political journalism is an inspiration to many.

“Tim asked the tough questions the right way and was the best in the business at keeping his interview subjects honest,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Mr. Russert’s death was a sad day in broadcasting.

“Today, broadcast journalism lost one of its giants, who will be remembered along with names like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley,” she said.

“Tim Russert embodied the very best in broadcast journalism and has been a fixture in millions of living rooms every Sunday morning on ‘Meet the Press,’ an institution that he shaped into one of the most influential news and opinion programs of our time,” she said.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Democratic candidate for president four years ago, described the death as “a swift kick for everyone who knew, respected and loved Tim and had the honor of sharing his company."

In a statement, Sen. Kerry said, “It's hard to describe the shock. Tim was the best political newsman of his generation, and he was a trailblazer in the unique way he brought his personal love of politics, honed by Moynihan and Cuomo, right into our living rooms every Sunday. Tim was at once brilliant and insightful while always approachable, always accessible and always your next-door neighbor and your friend who was there to referee the debates of the big issues of our time.

“He loved to hold the big guys accountable and in the original, intelligent, studied way he did it, he emerged as the biggest guy of all. It is impossible to overstate how much Tim was inseparable from American politics. When I decided to announce for president, the only place to do it was on ‘Meet the Press.’ It is impossible to imagine political life without him as our guide every Sunday."

National Association of Broadcasters President-CEO David K. Rehr called Mr. Russert “one of the most trusted and credible journalists in the history of broadcast news, delivering balanced and authoritative political reporting to millions of viewers. The broadcast community has lost a reporter who epitomized excellence, and we mourn NBC and the Russert family’s loss. Our Sunday mornings will never be the same.”

RTNDA President Barbara Cochran, who worked with Russert when she was executive producer on "Meet the Press," said: "Tim was one of the outstanding journalists of our time. He had a passion for news and a passion for politics and combined them in a remarkable career. He reinvigorated the Sunday morning interview format and made these programs must viewing across the nation. He was also a generous friend and mentor who gave willingly of himself in so many ways."

Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said the loss of Mr. Russert is hard to describe.

“Today we lost one of the true giants of American journalism and a tremendous public servant. Tim Russert will be remembered for many things. A committed family man, devout Catholic, devout sports fan, author, mentor. A tough interviewer, Tim delivered the news with authority, in a plainspoken way that made the great issues of our day accessible to everyone. His love of politics and our country came through in his relentless pursuit of the truth and in the quality of his work as a journalist.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Robert M. “Mike” Duncan said Mr. Russert’s “sudden death is a loss that will be felt throughout the journalism and political worlds. His reputation for fairness, accuracy and hard work earned him bipartisan respect. He will be missed.”

3:25 p.m.: Updated with Dean, Duncan comments

For TVWeek's full coverage on Mr. Russert, including news and memorials,click here.