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June 16, 2008

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Russert

Steven R. Berryman

The loss by heart attack of Meet The Press host Tim Russert, especially after an excellent stress test recently, reminds us of our “unbearable lightness of being” on this earth. Friday the 13th, the date this shocked us, will have new meaning now and forever.


Instinctively, Mr. Russert must have known this, as he seemed to live every day as if it were Christmas. A proud Catholic, Jesuit educated, he wove this badge along with his Buffalo-ness on his sleeve.


As brightly as his candle burned, I must conclude that in some subconscious way, he knew it was short-time, and conducted himself accordingly. What else could explain the absolute joy this man contained?


Missing his gregarious stare and little boy devilish grin is going to hurt.


My Sunday morning ritual always included a sit-down with Meet The Press, for as long as memory has served me; while living at home 30 years ago, I did so first with my Dad, and learned the love of political debate at his side.


Prior to this TV awakening, my perception was that all politics was intractable positions, and angry old white guys, with winner take all positions. Later shows like The McLaughlin Group highlighted this perception with the encouraged talk-overs.


Tim Russert was different. Positions had value, and there really were right answers to issues, not just positions and grandstanding. He could shoot a hole in your façade based on the best information and backed up by facts.


The polite and intelligent discourse brought many back from the edge of giving up on TV news and commentary, while on our way to the Internet.


While watching Tim Russert collaborate on Presidential Primary coverage on MSNBC, it was very clear that both Brian Williams and Chris Matthews were completely intimidated in his presence. Each in turn played up to him, and eventually deferred.


Nobody was as well prepared as Mr. Russert. He did amazing show-preparation so completely that staring down at notes was not evident. This happened only to pick up a pre-directed question or follow-up, and then, only to keep his place.


Look up passion in Webster’s and find this man. Without knowing, he must have felt as though he never really worked a day in his life, as the popular expression goes. It was never about pushing a position on Meet The Press, but about getting out the truth, as he knew it to be. Showing up in the Green Room must have been truly horrifying, but especially by those hiding agenda or seeking to persuade under false pretenses.


Presidents and potentates came to pray at his altar; some were blessed, others banished. But no “fairness doctrine” was necessary for the show. What you got was real and sincere.


Perhaps that’s what’s going to be missing now…the sincerity in public discourse.


You always want what you can’t have all the more so. You never have full appreciation for what you have until it’s gone.


For today, I hope that everyone takes stock, and takes on some of the gifts left generously by Tim Russert.


For one never really knows what tomorrow will bring.


As in the unbearable lightness of being.


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