If Americans weren't familiar with him before, all came to know NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert for his coverage of the 2000 presidential election. Instead of relying on high-tech computer-generated graphics on election night, Russert used a white dry eraser board to help explain the phenomena behind the dead-heat finish between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. He simply wrote, "Florida, Florida, Florida."
With the next presidential election less than six months away, it is difficult to imagine an election night without Russert. The moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," Russert died Friday at work of an apparent heart attack at age 58.
He was a powerful and influential force in journalism and American politics. He was a tough interviewer but always polite. Some elected officials refused to go on "Meet the Press" for fear of the grilling they would receive. Those who appeared on the Sunday morning program have said surviving Russert's interviews enhanced their credibility. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, upon learning of Russert's death, said he was "the best in the business at keeping his interview subjects honest."
When Russert chose to write books, though, he wrote about fatherhood. The first book, "Big Russ and Me," published in 2004, was about his relationship with his father. The second was "Wisdom of Our Fathers," in 2006. Both were No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
Proud of his Irish Catholic roots, Russert frequently spoke of his father and his blue-collar upbringing in Buffalo, N.Y. He also wore on his sleeve his love of his wife and his son Luke. He was a diehard fan of the Buffalo Bills, the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals.
Moderator of "Meet the Press" since 1991, Russert was also a senior vice president at NBC. This past year, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. The Washington Post credits Russert for coining the terms "red state" and "blue state."
He was a highly decorated journalist. He won an Emmy for his role in the coverage of President Ronald Reagan's funeral in 2004. He had dozens of honorary college degrees and numerous professional awards.
Indeed, the nation has lost one of its brightest lights in journalism and in politics who rose above competitors by doing his homework, treating people with respect and seeking the truth. These are the marks of a fine journalist and a fine man.