WASHINGTON - Tim Russert, NBC News’ Washington bureau chief and the moderator of “Meet the Press,” died Friday after being stricken at the bureau, NBC News said Friday. He was 58.
Russert was recording voiceovers for Sunday’s “Meet the Press” broadcast when he collapsed, the network said. He had recently returned from Italy, where his family was celebrating the graduation of Russert’s son, Luke, from Boston College.
No further details were immediately available.
A "Meet the Press" grilling was often considered an essential proving ground in the career of any national politician. Russert took the helm of the 60-year-old public affairs program in 1991.
“If you could pass the Tim Russert test, you could do something in this field,” said Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for Newsweek magazine and msnbc.com columnist.
Russert's tenacity as a reporter and his consuming passion for politics was evident during his nearly round-the-clock appearances on NBC and MSNBC on election nights.
Statement from NBC
Statement from Jeff Zucker, president and CEO of NBC Universal:
“We are heartbroken at the sudden passing of Tim Russert. We have lost a beloved member of our NBC Universal family and the news world has lost one of its finest. The enormity of this loss cannot be overstated. More than a journalist, Tim was a remarkable family man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Maureen, their son, Luke, and Tim’s entire extended family.”
Aside from his on-air responsibilities, Russert was a senior vice president and head of NBC's overall Washington operations.
He was “one of the premier political journalists and analysts of his time,” Tom Brokaw, the former longtime anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” said in announcing Russert’s death. “This news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice.”
In 2008, Time Magazine named Russert him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In a statement, President Bush called Russert “an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades.”
“Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it,” the president said.
Senate staffer before entering journalism
Timothy John Russert Jr. was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 7, 1950. He was a graduate of Canisius High School, John Carroll University and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He was a member of the bar in New York and Washington, D.C.
After graduating from law school, Russert went into politics as a staff operative. In 1976, he worked on the Senate campaign of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and in 1982, he worked on Mario Cuomo’s campaign for governor of New York.
Russert joined NBC News in 1984. In April 1985, he supervised the live broadcasts of NBC’s TODAY show from Rome, negotiating and arranging an appearance by Pope John Paul II, a first for American television. In 1986 and 1987, Russert led NBC News’ weeklong broadcasts from South America, Australia and China.
Of his background as a Democratic political operative, Russert said, “My views are not important.”
“Lawrence Spivak, who founded ‘Meet the Press,’ told me before he died that the job of the host is to learn as much as you can about your guest’s positions and take the other side,” he said in a 2007 interview with Time magazine. “And to do that in a persistent and civil way. And that’s what I try to do every Sunday.”
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, said in a statement that Russert “asked the tough questions the right way and was the best in the business at keeping his interview subjects honest.”
Russert wrote two books — “Big Russ and Me” in 2004 and “Wisdom of Our Fathers” in 2006 — both of which were New York Times best-sellers.
Emmy for Reagan funeral coverage
In 2005, Russert was awarded an Emmy for his role in the coverage of the funeral of President Ronald Reagan. His “Meet the Press” interviews with George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000 won the Radio and Television Correspondents’ highest honor, the Joan S. Barone Award, and the Annenberg Center’s Walter Cronkite Award.
Russert, who received 48 honorary doctorates, won countless other awards for excellence during his career, including the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the . He was also the recipient of the John Peter Zenger Freedom of the Press Award, the American Legion Journalism Award, the Veterans of Foreign Wars News Media Award, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society Journalism Award, the Allen H. Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism, the David Brinkley Award for Excellence in Communication and the Catholic Academy for Communication’s Gabriel Award. He was a member of the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.
He was a trustee of the Freedom Forum’s Newseum and a member of the board of directors of the Greater Washington Boys and Girls Club and America’s Promise — Alliance for Youth.
In 1995, the National Father’s Day Committee named him “Father of the Year,” Parents magazine honored him as “Dream Dad” in 1998, and in 2001 the National Fatherhood Initiative also recognized him as Father of the Year.
Survivors include his wife, Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair magazine, whom he met at the 1976 Democratic National Convention; and their son, Luke.
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