CNN Sr. Political Analyst
Fmr. Presidential Adviser
Since the news reached us on Friday afternoon, many Americans have experienced an extraordinary sense of grief about the death of Tim Russert. One hears it not only on television but in personal conversations with people all over the country. A friend in Hawaii sent a note to his three sons on Saturday, asking them to watch "Meet the Press" the next morning so that they could talk together about the meaning of father-son relationships on Father's Day. A friend in North Carolina said he was glued to his television. A friend in Massachusetts said she had not felt so much anguish since the death of John F. Kennedy.
Clearly, some of the grieving comes because he seemed so vital and young, heightening the sense that he left us far ahead of his time. Some of it comes because we are now hearing stories from an army of close friends that he maintained and how much he cared for them - he was a sweet as well as passionate man. NBC, to its credit, has revealed to us just how much he meant to his colleagues, not only there but in every corner of journalism and politics. We are learning, too, of how fine a chief he was to his Washington bureau - he may be as irreplaceable there as on the air. As Andrea Mitchell of NBC said right off, he set the gold standard in journalism.
But the depth of the grieving among the public suggests that he touched something deeper in the country.
I have been pondering what that may be and would welcome your comments. It's pretty clear that he was beloved by viewers because he had become such a friend - almost a neighbor - in their lives. Not everyone revered him for his on-air presence - some of Hillary Clinton's supporters thought he had a negative edge toward her in the closing weeks of the primaries, and a few Republicans have complained about bias - but overall, he struck people as tough but extremely fair toward everyone in politics. Yet, as I have talked with people, I sense that their ties to him went even deeper than that: he was, as one told me, one of the few journalists you could look to in recent years who had a passion for helping the country understand larger truths. "We have seen the death of truth in too many places," this friend said. "True to his roots and to Big Russ, Tim was the soul of integrity and truth-telling."
In reading a book by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus this weekend, I came across a quote that captures for me a sense of Tim Russert's approach to life. These are the words from a character in a George Bernard Shaw play:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one... the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoin in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
George Bernard Shaw
Man and Superman,
(Baltimore, Penguin, 1973), pg. 84
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