MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
NBC newsman Tim Russert died suddenly today of an apparent heart attack. He had hosted the "Meet the Press" program since 1991 and was known as a dogged interviewer and a well-sourced Washington insider. Under his leadership, the show became an unavoidable stop for politicians and officials at the highest levels of government. With his wry smile and trademark white board and marker, Russert was known for his ability to make sense of the complex U.S. electoral system. Here he is talking with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann after the Indiana primary last month.
(Soundbite of TV broadcast)
Mr. TIM RUSSERT ("Meet the Press"): We now know who the Democratic nominee is going to be and no one's going to dispute it, Keith. You know, sometimes in campaigns the candidate is the last - last to recognize the best timing. It's very much like being on life support. Once they start removing the systems, you really have no choice. If in fact these reports of Senator Clinton giving her campaign more money are true, then the Clintons have a big decision to make in the morning.
BLOCK: And NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now. David, I understand that Tim Russert collapsed suddenly at work. Can you tell us more about what happened today?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The information's only just coming to us. It happened just few hours ago, as we understand it, at NBC's offices in Washington. He was working on a story and died. It was - you started to see a tiny bit trickle out on Web sites. A very shaken Tom Brokaw announced the news on NBC - NBC's cable news channel, MSNBC, a little while ago. And people, you know, throughout NBC are clearly in deep mourning.
BLOCK: Tim Russert came through politics, had worked for New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, for New York Governor Mario Cuomo - known as a proud son of Buffalo. Tell us more about his - his rise to prominence in journalism.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, he loved talking about being from Buffalo, and if you watched the show, you couldn't avoid but knowing his love of the Buffalo Bills, as well, and of his Jesuit education. He had been - gone to law school and had worked for Senator Moynihan, Governor Cuomo - and he joined NBC as actually a lawyer. But his love of politics sort of led him - his rise. He joined the Washington bureau, became the head of "Meet the Press," and really applied sort of the lawyer's ability for inquisition to find the truth to the political sphere.
BLOCK: It seemed that, that - well, he came from Democratic politics though, his rapier sense of questioning was applied equally to both sides. And it seems that that campaigns knew that - that they had to appear on Tim's show, that if they wanted to - to be taken seriously, that was what they had to do.
FOLKENFLIK: Absolutely. If you think of, sort of, you know, generations ago, you know, where you had smoke filled rooms where the big bosses of political parties would decide who the successful politicians would be - you'd run for senator, run for president, you know, in some ways, Tim Russert's table on Sunday mornings at "Meet the Press" served that function. If you were not prepared, if you were not ready to say why you wanted to attain office, what you wanted to do with it, if you were not ready for prime time, as it were, Tim Russert's questioning would expose that.
He also was able to, you know, ask tough questions, you know. You think of him grilling Vice President Cheney, not a person to tolerate fools, on the purported links between Saddam Hussein and Mohammad Atta and the 9/11 hijackers. He really ended up forcing President - Vice President Cheney - to face these questions squarely, when it became clear there were not really those links in a way that was important, probably, for the public to hear. He also ended up serving, you know - he's indefatigable so he took advantage of the cable channel to be on the air as much as events warranted.
You know, when he said Senator Obama was clearly the nominee, it was the case. He was the guy using the white board making it clear that the nation was hopelessly divided on election night 2000. If there was a repository for political conventional wisdom, in a sense, it resided in Tim Russert.
BLOCK: Okay, David Folkenflik, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: Yes, ma'am.
BLOCK: And that table that David mentioned, Michele, you have sat around that table on "Meet the Press."
NORRIS: I have, I have, and it's actually really hard for me to talk about this right now, because we only learned of this recently. You know, one of the things that is so interesting about Tim is he was the ultimate Washington insider, he was someone who because of the success of the show, was seen as a celebrity, but he was also just a regular guy. And I think that that's why the viewers and the people who sat at his table were often drawn to him. He was a great journalist and a good friend, and I'm going to miss him.
BLOCK: Again, Tim Russert of NBC News died today of apparent heart attack at age 58.