Few celebrity deaths can make me stop in my tracks, go cold and think "oh Christ, how in the hell can the world function now?" One, as I covered some time before, was Factory Records' Tony "don't call me Tony" Wilson, the other is Tim Russert. To say that Wee Russ' death was unexpected is an understatement.
There are many words that you'll hear a lot over this weekend's news cycle, not the least of them "enthusiasm". Russert's enthusiasm for politics and the political system was utterly infectious and has carried me along for two, almost three, presidential elections now. Grinning and antsy, like a child on a store Santa's knee, when discussing even the most mundane political news, Russert made me care like no other journalist or commentator. He made me interested. He made me believe. He made me think. But it was more than the mere presentation, it was his astute observations and frequently dead-on predictions and insights that made him such an important figure in politics and in political reporting. Never anything than straight down the line with his interviewees, his technique was rare in the landscape of today's news coverage; firm, but fair. Tenacious, but polite. There was no yelling. There were no dirty tricks. There were no traps. No snarling, no sarcasm, and he was never holier-than-thou about his guests or about whomever he was talking. Russert never told anyone to "shut up" or cut their microphone.
I've often said that when it comes to the media, nobody who dies is ever a pathetic loser. They're always "brilliant", "popular" or "beautiful" and there are tales a plenty of successes. Nobody who ever died was ugly, stupid or roundly hated by their peers. The NBC staff's appearances in tribute today, to a man a frog hair away from tears, emphasises the fact that his warm welcome on the NBC shows where he guested (always with that irritatingly forced intro/outro "NBC's chief Washington correspondent and moderator of 'Meet The Press', Tim Russert") were nothing but totally genuine. The rapport, love and respect between Russert and the Today Show's woefully underused Matt Lauer was obvious, just as it was with Brian Williams and Chris Matthews. His delight lit them up, too. Lauer, like so many of Russert's colleagues, made no secret of how much he enjoyed the man and the experience of him as a guest.
It was clear - in life and, today, in death - that Russert was adored and respected at NBC. Chuck Todd's interview with Olbermann this evening was particularly heartbreaking and brave. Puffy-faced and red-eyed, Todd - NBC's political director and a man who is well on his way to being a worthy successor to Russert if you ask me - spouted lovingly about their time working together, sharing stories of Russert's love of baseball and scoping out non-chain local restaurants whilst on the road together. There's no doubt that it's going to be a rough November without him there.
It's hard to lose a colleague, especially one that was essential and influential to the workings of a workplace - harder still when that loss is so sudden. There's no faux tears on America's TV screens tonight. No empty tributes from colleagues either pushed or pushing in front of the camera in order to appear warm and fuzzy. The grief is real, obvious, beautiful and tragic.
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