Tim Russert: 1950-2008

In what’s become a ritual this election year, I, as producer of WDAM’s 5:00 p.m. newscast, take a feed from the NBC News Channel’s Washington D.C. office (for the record, “NBC News Channel” is the name of a feed service; not to be confused with MSNBC or CNBC) every weekday at 2:30 p.m. Usually, Steve Handelsman, a correspondent for the feed service, would be in a booth with a nice view of the Capitol building doing his on-air work covering the latest political developments.

Today at 2:30, no Steve. Five minutes pass, still no Steve. I wait another few minutes and then came news of the death of Tim Russert. I thought to myself – we’re talking about the Meet The Press moderator and not confusing him with his father, nicknamed “Big Russ”, right?

Then, the NBC Sports golf announcers, covering the U.S. Open, toss to an NBC News special report. During this special report, an obviously upset Tom Brokaw delivered the unfortunate news Tim Russert “collapsed and died…while at work”.

We’d later learn Steve was relieved of his usual political coverage responsibility for the day. Instead, he was to file an obituary piece on Tim Russert for NBC affiliates via the News Channel service.

I can still remember back eight years earlier, back when I was morning producer, when the results of the election hinged on three words. Tim Russert wrote those three words on a small and simple dry erase board.

Those three words: “Florida Florida Florida”.

In an era of state of the art graphics and sleek presentation throughout the network level, it all took a backseat to that small, simple dry erase board.

My schedule rarely allowed a chance to watch Meet The Press. (If MTP was starting, that was my cue to get to work on Rock 104 RockTrax.) But throughout the rest of the week, I’d still get to see on other NBC programs – for he wore other hats as bureau chief in D.C. and host of programs on two of NBC’s cable networks.

Tim was a straight shooter and set the bar high for political journalism throughout it all. Further, along the way, it looked like he was having fun covering politics.

To say the absolute least, the next moderator of Meet The Press has one tough act to follow.

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