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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tim Russert: 1950-2008

I never met Tim Russert, though he was in attendance at one of the most important events of my life.

A virtually unknown NBC News executive at the time, he was the keynote speaker at my college commencement in May 1985 – selected, I assume, because the school was in Buffalo and he was a native son of the city.

Most people don’t remember much about the speeches they hear at graduation ceremonies, and, to be honest, I can’t recall the specifics of what Russert said that day. But I do remember he made everyone in the hall smile and laugh with the gentle good humor and genuine likeability that would become his trademarks as his star rose on network television in the pages of his books in the years that followed.

And a star he became, though he doubtlessly would have eschewed that label.

Russert, as the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” for nearly 17 years, was in a league of his own. During a time when so much TV news was becoming unfair and imbalanced, Russert never let his leanings show. He treated politicians of all stripes equally, which is to say he was just as tough on one side as he was on the other ... or just as kind to one side as he was to the other.

The news on Friday of Russert’s untimely death at age 58 hit me like a sucker punch to the stomach. For a moment, I couldn’t believe – or just didn’t want to believe – the words coming from the radio as I sat in my car outside my son’s school around 3:30 p.m. But the truth sank in quickly, and I soon found myself overcome by a sense of grief and pain that I’ve never felt before about the death of someone I didn’t know.

Perhaps my sadness was rooted in the fact that Russert made us feel like we did know him. He talked to us, not at us, and he never came across as self-important or condescending. His Election Night reporting, most notably in 2000, was light-hearted and genial, even fun – remember the hand-held dry-erase board? – even though the subject matter was as serious as could be. And he always made us feel like we were his friends, and that he was ours.

Also, no doubt, some of my sadness was rooted in the fact that Russert and I had several things in common: the news business, Buffalo, unflinching loyalty to football’s Bills and hockey’s Sabres, a fanaticism about Bruce Springsteen and a fascination with all things political. I truly felt a connection to the man.

The TV newsscape won’t be the same without Russert. Sunday mornings, when “Meet the Press” has always been central for me, will feel empty for a while. Important stories covered by NBC will be notable, in part, because they’ll lack Russert’s insightful perspective. And turning on the TV on that most important Tuesday night in November will be akin to going to one’s high school reunion and learning a best friend couldn’t attend.

News will continue to happen, of course, and TV networks will continue to report it. But Russert’s absence will be obvious every step of the way, and the quality of what is broadcast will never be quite the same.



Blogger Johnny said...

Well said. And, being from Buffalo, it really hurts. All the work, all the prep, all the joy one puts into life. One minute you're typing something, then next second, you're slumped over, never to see the light of day again. It's just something I have a tough time accepting.

Russert was loved because he never forgot his roots, and he was proud to be from Buffalo.

He will be missed.

June 15, 2008 at 10:39 PM 

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