Russert Remembered as 'Premier Journalist' and 'Family Man'

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - Tim Russert, long-time host of NBC's "Meet the Press," was remembered fondly by both fellow newsmen and politicians after he died of an apparent heart attack on Friday.

The 58-year-old journalist and Washington bureau chief for NBC News was recording voiceovers for Sunday's broadcast when he collapsed, the network said. He had recently returned from Italy, where his family celebrated the graduation of his son, Luke, from Boston College.

While announcing Russert's passing after 3 p.m. on the MSNBC cable TV channel, former "Nightly News" host Tom Brokaw called the newsman a "beloved colleague" and "one of the premier journalists of our time" who had been covering a political campaign that "he loved."

President Bush and his wife were attending a dinner with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris when they learned of Russert's death.

"Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert," Bush said in a statement. "Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him."

The president added that the "tough and hardworking newsman" -- who took over "Meet the Press" in 1991 -- was "the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television" and "an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades."

"He was always well informed and thorough in his interviews, and he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it," Bush added. "Most important, Tim was a proud son and father."

Other tributes from people across the political spectrum praised the quality of Russert's professional and personal lives.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a news release that stated the majority leader "was greatly saddened to learn of Tim Russert's untimely death" because the journalist had been "a warm and gracious family man with a great zest for life and an unsurpassed passion for his work."

"His rise from working-class roots to become a well-respected leader in political journalism is an inspiration to many," Reid said. "Tim asked the tough questions the right way and was the best in the business at keeping his interview subjects honest."

Sen . John McCain also said he was "very saddened" to hear of Russert's sudden death. "He was a truly great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills and everything about politics and America.

"He was just a terrific guy," McCain noted in his statement. "I was proud to call him a friend" and will remember "the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the preeminent political journalist of his generation."

Over in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) noted that Russert "was a loyal and loving son," as well as "a devoted husband and father. He was one of the smartest, toughest television news journalists of all time" and an astute student of American politics."

"I can say from experience that joining Tim on 'Meet the Press' was one of the greatest tests any public official could face," Boehner noted. "Regardless of party affiliation, he demanded that you be straight with him -- and with the American people who were watching."

The minority leader stated that reading about Russert's relationship with his father in his book "Big Russ and Me" "not only led me to think back to experiences with my dad, but also led me to reflect on the special times I've shared with my daughters as well."

"It goes without saying that Tim will be missed," he added. "And it goes without saying that Washington, D.C., and our nation's political landscape will never be the same without him."

Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Republican Conference, said that Russert "set the gold standard for political journalism as a tough and fair questioner in the service of the public interest."

"Tim transformed 'Meet the Press' into an American institution," Putnam noted. "Sunday mornings will never be the same without him."

Also mourning Russert's passing was Bob Schieffer of CBS News, who told WTOP-AM in Washington, D.C., that while he was a friend of his counterpart at NBC, there was also an element of competition to their relationship.

"When you got one past old Russert, you felt like you had hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league," he said.

Radio talk show host Larry Kudlow noted while a guest on CNBC's Friday afternoon edition of "Closing Bell" that Russert "had a tremendous amount of respect" from conservatives.

"Every year, Brent Bozell has a whole gala dinner for the Media Research Center" -- the parent company of Cybercast News Service -- "which is basically attacking so-called liberal mainstream media," Kudlow said. "The last couple of years, I've been one of the hosts" of the MRC's DisHonors Awards banquet.

While noting that people from several networks have been criticized for their bias while on the air, he declared that "never once did Russert's name every come up" because the journalist "was a guy who was extremely highly regarded in both camps, and I think in this business, in this day and age -- that is not an easy thing achieve."

"That is testimony to his brilliance at his job," Kudlow added.

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