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Tim Russert

Meet the Press 1991–2008

Timothy Russert was an American television journalist and lawyer who appeared for more than 16 years as the longest-serving moderator of NBC's Meet the Press. He was a senior vice president at NBC News, Washington bureau chief and also hosted an eponymous CNBC/MSNBC weekend interview program. He was a frequent correspondent and guest on NBC's The Today Show and Hardball. Russert covered several presidential elections, and he presented the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey on the NBC Nightly News during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Time magazine included Russert in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008. Russert was posthumously revealed as a 30-year source for syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Prior to becoming host of Meet the Press, Russert worked as a special counsel, and later as chief of staff, to U.S. Senator Daniel Moynihan, a Democrat from New York. In 1983, he became the counsel to New York Governor Mario Cuomo, also a Democrat.

He was hired by NBC News' Washington bureau the following year and became bureau chief by 1989. Russert assumed the job of host of the Sunday morning program Meet the Press in 1991, and would become the longest-serving host of the program. Its name was changed to Meet the Press with Tim Russert, and, at his suggestion, went to an hour-long format in 1992. The show also shifted to a greater focus on in-depth interviews with high-profile guests, where Russert was known especially for his extensive preparatory research and cross-examining style. One approach he developed was to find old quotes or video clips that were inconsistent with guests' more recent statements, present them on-air to his guests and then ask them to clarify their positions. With Russert as host the show became increasingly popular, receiving more than four million viewers per week, and it was recognized as one of the most important sources of political news. Time magazine named Russert one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2008, and Russert often moderated political campaign debates.

During NBC's coverage of the 2000 presidential election, Russert calculated possible Electoral College outcomes using a whiteboard now in the Smithsonian Institution on the air and memorably summed up the outcome as dependent upon "Florida, Florida, Florida." TV Guide described the scene as "one of the 100 greatest moments in TV history. Russert again accurately predicted the final battleground of the presidential elections of 2004 On the MSNBC show Tucker, Russert predicted the battleground states of the 2008 presidential election would be New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada, saying, "If Democrats can win three of those four, they can lose Ohio and Florida, and win the presidency.

According to The Washington Post, the phrases red states and blue states were coined by Tim Russert, although in that same article Russert states that he wasn't the first to use the terminology. This term refers to those states of the United States of America whose residents predominantly vote for the Republican Party red or Democratic Party blue presidential candidates, respectively. John Chancellor, Russert's NBC colleague, is credited with using red and blue to represent the states on a US map for the 1976 presidential election, but at that time Republican states were blue, and Democratic states were red. How the colors got reversed is not entirely clear. During the 1984 presidential election, between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale, ABC News used a map which showed Republican states as red and Democratic states as blue. According to David Brinkley, that was because Ronald Reagan. Mainstream political discussion following the 2000 presidential election used red state/blue state more frequently.

In the Plame affair, Scooter Libby, convicted chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, told special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Russert told him of the identity of Central Intelligence Agency officer Valerie Plame who is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson. Russert testified previously, and again in United States v. I. Lewis Libby, that he would neither testify whether he spoke with Libby nor would he describe the conversation. Russert did say, however, that Plame's identity as a CIA operative was not leaked to him. Russert testified again in the trial on February 7, 2007. According to the Washington Post, Russert testified that "when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record," saying: "when I talk to senior government officials on the phone, it's my own policy our conversations are confidential. If I want to use anything from that conversation, then I will ask permission.

In the lead up to the Iraq War, Meet the Press featured interviews with top government officials including Vice President Dick Cheney. CBS Evening News correspondent Anthony Mason praised Russert's interview techniques: "In 2003, as the United States prepared to go to war in Iraq, Russert pressed Vice President Dick Cheney about White House assumptions." However, Salon.com reported a statement from Cheney press aide Cathie Martin regarding advice she says she offered when the Bush administration had to respond to charges that it manipulated pre-Iraq War intelligence: "I suggested we put the vice president on Meet the Press, which was a tactic we often used. It's our best format. David Folkenflik quoted Russert in his May 19, 2004, Baltimore Sun article:

In the lead up to the Iraq War, Meet the Press featured interviews with top government officials including Vice President Dick Cheney. CBS Evening News correspondent Anthony Mason praised Russert's interview techniques: "In 2003, as the United States prepared to go to war in Iraq, Russert pressed Vice President Dick Cheney about White House assumptions." However, Salon.com reported a statement from Cheney press aide Cathie Martin regarding advice she says she offered when the Bush administration had to respond to charges that it manipulated pre-Iraq War intelligence: "I suggested we put the vice president on Meet the Press, which was a tactic we often used. It's our best format. David Folkenflik quoted Russert in his May 19, 2004, Baltimore Sun article:

Death

Shortly after 1:30 pm on June 13, 2008, Russert collapsed at the offices of WRC-TV, which houses the Washington, D.C. bureau of NBC News where he was chief. He was recording voiceovers for the Sunday edition of Meet the Press. According to Brian Williams, during his speech at the Kennedy Center, Russert's last words were, "What's happening?" spoken as a greeting to NBC Washington bureau editing supervisor Candace Harrington as he passed her in the hallway. He then walked down the hallway to record voiceovers in the soundproof booth and collapsed. A co-worker began CPR on him. The District of Columbia Fire and Rescue service received a call from NBC at 1:40 pm, and dispatched an EMS unit which arrived at 1:44 pm. Paramedics attempted to defibrillate Russert's heart three times, but he did not respond. Russert was then transported to Sibley Memorial Hospital, arriving at 2:23 pm, where he was pronounced dead. He was 58 years old.

In accordance with American journalistic tradition, the public announcement of Russert's death was withheld by both the wire services and his network's competitors, until Russert's family had been notified. Retired NBC Nightly News anchor Tom Brokaw then delivered, live on NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC, the news of his death. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was on assignment in Afghanistan and could not anchor the special report. CBS and ABC also interrupted programming to report Russert's death. Armen Keteyian reported the news for CBS and Charles Gibson reported for ABC. Russert had just returned from a family vacation in Rome, Italy, where he had celebrated his son's graduation from Boston College. While his wife and son remained in Rome, Russert had returned to prepare for his Sunday television show.

Russert's longtime friend and physician, Dr. Michael Newman, said that his asymptomatic coronary artery disease had been controlled with medication and exercise, and that he had performed well on a stress test in late April. An autopsy performed on the day of his death determined that his history of coronary artery disease led to a myocardial infarction heart attack and ventricular fibrillation with the immediate cause being an occlusive coronary thrombosis in the left anterior descending artery resulting from a ruptured cholesterol plaque.

Russert is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery, next to the historic Soldiers' Home, in Washington's Petworth neighborhood. The Newseum in Washington, D.C., exhibited a re-creation of Russert's office with original elements such as his desks, bookshelves, folders, loose leaf papers and notebooks. In August 2014, the exhibit was disassembled at the Newseum and transported to the Buffalo History Museum. The exhibit entitled "Inside Tim Russert's Office: If it's Sunday It's Meet the Press", opened in October 2014 with Luke Russert and others giving opening remarks. The exhibit can be viewed during the normal business hours of the Buffalo History Museum.

 

Meet the Press Moderators

Martha Rountree

Ned Brooks

Lawrence E. Spivak

Bill Monroe

Roger Mudd

Marvin Kalb

Chris Wallace

Garrick Utley

Tim Russert

Tom Brokaw

David Gregory

F. Chuck Todd

 

 

 

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