Losing a Unique View of the News: Tim Russert

Melissa Block and Michele Norris remember longtime journalist Tim Russert, who died today of an apparent heart attack. The longtime host of NBC's Meet the Press was 58.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're going to take a few minutes now to remember NBC newsman Tim Russert, the longtime host of "Meet the Press." He collapsed at NBC's Washington bureau today while he preparing for Sunday's show. Russert was 58 years old. He had just returned to work after a vacation in Europe.

Tim Russert has been putting Washington insiders' feet to the fire every Sunday morning since 1991, when he became the moderator of "Meet the Press." His death brought condolences this afternoon from President Bush, as well as those seeking to succeed him. Democratic candidate Barack Obama said that there wasn't a better interviewer on television, and Republican candidate John McCain said Russert was hard but always fair.

Michele, I know this has been a hard day for you. You have sat on the journalists panel on "Meet the Press" several times. Tell me your impressions of Tim Russert. First of all, Tim Russert the journalist.

NORRIS: You know, you talked about him having Washington insiders at the table. He himself was a Washington insider, but he certainly didn't carry himself that way. He had certainly an air of celebrity because of the success of his program, but he came across as a real regular guy, both to the viewers and to the people who sat at the table. And I think that that was part of his appeal and one of the reasons that he was so good at that table in interviewing people.

I mean he was a grand inquisitor, but he did it in such a sort of natural way. And he had this way of, you know, presenting people with their words, calling for the tape and, you know, he'd go to those sort of long quotes that you'd see in the paper. But it was done in this sort of conversational manner that you could see that he was drawing people in, almost setting a trap for them there at that table.

BLOCK: He came through politics. He originally started at in politics - in Democratic politics. What was it about politics that revved him up as a journalist?

NORRIS: Oh, boy, did it rev him up. I mean, this year he was in his element. You know, you'd go - he'd walk on set and they'd go to a commercial break and he'd turn to you and say, can you believe this? I mean he was really hepped up by what was going on this year. And journalism was a sport to him, it was almost also like a religion. And I don't mean to, you know, say this to be sacrilegious in saying that, but he really did love covering this stuff. He loved the people, he loved the policy. He just loved almost everything about it. And one of the things he also loved is caring people along in this process.

He was a real mentor to a lot of people. I think I count myself among them. And I always liked to call him coach because of his demeanor. You know, he always had this big smile on face. And at the end of a show he'd tell people, you know, go get them. Go, you know, go out there and tackle the biggest stories of the day.

And he had a real - an ability, Melissa, to remember almost everything also. He remembered your kids' names, your spouse's name. Both of our mothers were named Betty, so when I'd see him, you know, he'd always say how's your Betty doing? Remembered, you know, your kids' communion dates. He was a very special man.

BLOCK: Seemed to be very intent to on - while making things interesting for people on the inside, also making them very comprehensible to many listeners and viewers on the outside.

NORRIS: Yeah, and that was part of the, you know, when he'd say go to the tape, I mean he would walk on the set and he'd had this big sheath of papers with all kinds of charts and numbers; and again, that goes back to that regular guy thing. You know, he would say that he wanted to make sure the folks in Buffalo could understand even the most complicated of stories, whether it was healthcare policy or, you know, breaking down the tax code. That was very, very important to him. Keep it simple. Make sure the people understand what we're trying to convey here.

BLOCK: We're been remembering NBC's Tim Russert, who wore many hats at that network, most notably the moderator of the long-time show "Meet the Press." Tim Russert died today at age 58.

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