Remembering Tim Russert and the lessons he taught us

Remembering Tim Russert and the lessons he taught us June 21, 2018

Via Wikipedia

I was just reminded that the great NBC News reporter Tim Russert died 10 years ago this month.

Has it been that long?

They day after he died in 2008, I preached about him in a homily: 

Like a lot of people, I was saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Tim Russert. Journalism is poorer without him. I never had the privilege of meeting him, or working with him, but I know a lot of people who did, and they have talked a lot over the last two days about his passions. He loved the New York Yankees, and the Buffalo Bills. He loved his family and politics.

And he loved his faith.

I also work in television news, and I find myself many days despairing over what is happening to the business. I told someone not long ago that I feel sometimes like a missionary in Africa – hoping that I don’t get eaten alive by the cannibals.

But then I look at someone like Tim Russert — a man whose faith imbued his work, and animated it. He managed to make the kingdom of God present, even on the Sunday talk shows. It was there in his sense of fairness, and his quest for the truth, and the decency and respect he showed to all those he interviewed.

And it was there, too, in his devotion to his family.

Many years ago, when his wife struggled to give birth during a difficult delivery, he went to a nearby church. And he made a promise to God that if his baby was born healthy, he would never again miss mass. His son came through it, and Tim Russert kept that promise. He named his son Luke, after the patron saint of physicians. And not long ago in an interview he said he liked to remind Luke of the gospel of Luke: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Tim Russert was given much by the nuns, the Sisters of Mercy, who taught him in Buffalo all those years ago, and he never forgot it, and often spoke out passionately about the importance of Catholic education. He tried to live what he was taught, in whatever way he could.

This morning I read an interview with the journalist Howard Fineman, who is Jewish, and who said if he ever thought about becoming Catholic, Russert would be the best advertisement for it. Fineman said that he worked in a town, Washington, with many false gods, but that Tim Russert always sought the real one.

He’s an example, I think, of one ordinary layman who labored to reap God’s harvest. How many others are here in this church today?

Ask yourself: what is God calling me to do in his fields? Could anyone here be the best advertisement for the faith?

We need more priests.  But we also need more Tim Russerts, too: more men and women and children and young people who will each, in their own way, go out into the world, to live the gospel. They will remind those they meet that to whom much is given, much is expected.

Our lives can be a proclamation, a profession of faith, one made not just with words, but with choices and actions. In everything we do, we can say to all those we meet: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Now some of his friends at NBC are adding their remembrances and lessons from a life well-lived:

  • Relentless Preparation – There are no shortcuts

There was never a Sunday that Tim sat down in the moderator’s chair without doing his homework. He prepared for each interview like a student prepping for a final exam – reading mountains of research material, writing notes and talking to experts. The end result – a list with three hours worth of questions and follow-ups, all for a one-hour show. Sometimes, the hardest part about producing the live program each week was actually getting Tim off the air on-time. He always had one more question that he wanted to ask his guest.

  • Read Voraciously

Piled up underneath a tall wooden table in a corner of Tim’s office was a rotating month’s worth of all five major newspapers (plus the New York tabloids!) that he read each morning. So ingrained were the contents in his photographic memory that he would frequently ask for a copy of a recent article that was on “A3 on the right-hand side of the page that contained a quote from Senator X.” Thanks to his archival pile, the retrieval was made that much easier. Understanding the world can’t be done by scrolling through a screen of snaps and tweets.

  • Think Creatively

In a job where curveballs come frequently, it’s important to find creative solutions. Just days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, “Meet the Press” had a live interview with Vice President Dick Cheney from Camp David. Minutes before the interview, Mary Matalin, then an adviser to the Vice President said, “Tim, we have an issue. Secret Service doesn’t want you to say where you’re interviewing the Vice President.” Tim looked down, thought for a minute and asked, “How about we say we are in the shadows of Camp David?” She said, “I think that will work.” And it did.

Read it all. Pray for us, Tim Russert. We need it. And we need you.


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