June 3, 2023

Russ Never Sleeps

Russ Never SleepsJesus, my heart just fucking broke.

I’ve been writing this blog since January 3rd, the night of the Iowa Caucuses. I was just going to do it a few nights a week to stir some anticipation for our book while we got it finished up and ready for market. I had no idea what I’d write about after February 5th, Super Tuesday, when both nominations would be all but sewn up, the pundits would leave on vacation, and we’d all be figuring out what to do with ourselves until July or August when the Veepstakes started in earnest.

Of course this turned into the mother of all primary contests, and I was glued to my television every night, surveying the plump berries on the tree and deciding which one I was going to pluck to sweeten what had become my nightly blog. Every primary contest was like the Super Bowl, and I’d hightail it home from work through gridlock just to sit down with a beer and tune into the play-by-play.

If the polls were just closing, MSNBC was always my first stop. Olbermann and Matthews were more than capable and informative, but I made sure I was at full attention when Tim Russert came in. Chuck Todd had the math, but Russert could always see eight equations ahead, and could deliver it with a bonhomie all his own, and with a confidence and authority that hasn’t been seen since Walter Cronkite.

I have one day a week off from work, and that’s Sunday, and I’m usually busy with the blog or the book or something else. I sleep for a few hours during the day, trying to catch up on what I’m not getting the rest of the week, but the TiVo is always set to record Meet The Press, and I’ll always wake up at 3:00 PM when those trumpets sound, signalling my favorite part of my one day off.

Meet The Press is Inside Baseball to political junkies, and Tim Russert was Babe Ruth. No one ran a better interview, no one did their homework more rigorously. Like the original titans at 60 Minutes, no one came to an interview more loaded for bear than Russert, and it was a delight to watch as he would unreel fact after fact, quote after quote, taking his time dancing around his subject, but giving a little jab here and there, putting them tighter and tighter into a corner, and then when he had them where he wanted them, winding up like Popeye but with a beatific smile that belied the blow that he was about to deliver, and that there was no way his subjects could dodge.

But it was never an attack like Bill O’Reilly. Russert would make his point, allow his subject to respond, and move on to the next question. And he’d do it again. Fact, quote, punch. Fact, quote, punch. Lather, rinse, repeat. And all the time with a gentle smile and raised eyebrows, affording his subjects the opportunity to explain the contradictions in their positions, without badgering them into a defensive fight-or-flight response.

I have been a big fan of Tim Russert since 1991, when I read a profile of him inRolling Stone in October of that year after he took the reins at Meet The Pressfrom Garrick Utley. He was a big fan of Paul Newman, and named his son, Luke, after Newman’s character in Cool Hand Luke. Russert told Newman when he met him that he’d named his son after Newman’s character. Newman was flattered and asked, “Wow. What kind of kid is he?”

Russert didn’t miss a beat. “My boy can eat 50 eggs!” Fucking brilliant.

I followed him on his interviews on Imus In The Morning through the 1990s. He was always funny, and candid, and dead-on about everything. I had to do a target list of media contacts for our book, and Tim Russert was front and center, even though I knew I had a better chance of finding $2.59 a gallon gas than getting him to write a blurb for our book.

Even FOXNews interrupted their partisan vitriol to give their props to this great man. I half expected Laura Ingraham to burst into flames talking about what a giant this man was to the profession, but her accolades were sincere. Even Chris Wallace admitted “he usually beat me like a drum.”

Just a few weeks ago, I ran through Meet The Press and the other Sunday shows before I’d found the right topic for my Sunday blog. I’d found it and written it, but decided to watch what was left in my TiVo queue. My last stop was The Tim Russert Show (and it was only my last stop because MSNBC had been rerunning his earlier episodes for weeks). I was exhausted and ready for bed, but I couldn’t stop watching Presidential historian Michael Beschloss, former CBS anchor Charles Osgood and his book on Presidential stories, and the Jesus of political wonks, Tim Russert, swap their favorite stories of America’s Presidents, to a degree of arcanity that would have left the majority of America with their eyes glazing over. But I couldn’t get enough of it, and I watched it twice. Three brilliant guys sharing tales about things that most Americans don’t give a shit about, but doing it with so much passion that you can’t help but care.

Another one lost way too young, and Sundays aren’t going to be the same anymore. This man was a behemoth, and we’ve lost one of our greatest voices. A forty on the curb for you, sir.