I never met Tim Russert. But I always wanted to. My Sunday mornings predictably start with a cup of coffee and Meet The Press. No matter what is going on in my life, how much work I have to do or places I have to go, on Sunday mornings I put my life on pause. It can wait.
Tim Russert and I come from very different starting points. He loved politics and politicians. I hate politics and can’t stand politicians.
So why’d I watch Meet the Press religiously every Sunday? Because Tim Russert would always do what I felt most other mainstream journalists don’t do when they have a politician in a public forum – he makes them squirm.
He not only asks them tough questions, but when they dance around the question like WE ALL KNOW THEY ARE GOING TO DO AND CAN SEE COMING FROM A MILE AWAY, he calls them out on not answering the question.
He doesn’t move on to the next question, satisfied that they gave a totally unsatisfying answer to the first question. He drills them with a “nice try, but, let’s do this again, and I’m not going to stop until you actually answer the question”.
Meet the Press is the closest thing currently in my life to the family dinners I grew up with. Family dinner’s revolve around discussing and debating world events. If you want to sit at the dinner table, you better sharpen your debate skills and master your arguments. While we still have the occasional all family dinner, it’s less frequent than when we were growing up and all under one roof.
When I watch Meet The Press I talk to the TV, in the same way that a rabid sports fan screams at the players, feeling that the louder he yells, and the more worked up he gets, the more the players will hear him and heed his advice.
In fact, I’m so into Meet The Press that about six months ago, my brother, Michael, and I bounced around the idea of producing a live WebTV series called Russert Remixed. The idea was to start each episode at 11:30am, when MTP ends.
We’d organize an interesting panel of people to come into the studio and break down the day’s episode – our thoughts on the people who were interviewed, what they had to say, how we would have coached the politicians who answered the questions and general ranting and raving about politics, politicians an the world at large.
Essentially, we’d do another hour deep dive on the show, even replaying sound bytes from the show as starting points for discussion. Michael would compose the Russert Remixed intro music.
Interestingly, I feel like most people see the same thing in Tim Russert that I did. We produce so much talk show style content out of our studio, often with people who have never hosted a show before, that I frequently get asked what kinds of questions they should ask the people they are about to interview. I always reply with the same answer – less like Larry King and Charlie Rose and more like Tim Russert . Not once did I ever have to explain to someone what this meant.
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need an explanation either.
And that’s why I think Tim Russert meant so much to me. Rarely do I look at someone in the public forum and say that guy speaks for me. Tim Russert spoke for me, and I think for a lot of people. He kept politicians honest, or at least accountable. He was my voice to undress them and say exactly what I wanted to say, albeit in a more frustrated, incredulous tone.
And every politician knew they couldn’t side-step a Tim Russert interview. If you want to play in American politics, you have to man-up with Tim Russert.
I actually cried this week. Not in a sobbing out loud kind of way, but tears definitely streamed down my face, especially during today’s episode of Meet The Press. A good person is no longer with us, an important person who was our voice in a domain where, ironically, our voice really doesn’t matter. If choice A stinks, and choice B stinks and I have to choose A or B to represent me in Washington, is that really choice??
In a tribute to Tim Russert on this very sad Sunday, I’ll end this with two words, “Go Celtics!”
Oh, and Happy Father’s Day.