Sunt lachrymae rerum, says the poet. And the sudden and horribly premature passing of Tim Russert has been an occasion of many tears indeed. Everyone in journalism, from every pocket of partisanship, has turned out to mourn the death of this astute and knowledgeable pundit, who seemed too good for the medium of television by which most of America got to know him.
David Remnick writes: "Russert was no radical. He wanted the zing of confrontation but was always careful to withdraw at a certain point, the better not to cross the line between tough and hostile in the viewer’s eyes. There were limits to his approach, and blogs both liberal and conservative sometimes purveyed the notion that he was nothing more than a cozy role-player in the Beltway drama. That notion was deeply unfair. His preparation insured that a politician could not drift long in a mental comfort zone. After one particularly contentious Sunday session, John McCain recalled that he told Russert, “I hadn’t had so much fun since my last interrogation in prison camp.” That expression of grudging admiration may well have been McCain’s clever means of D.C. ingratiation, but one can guess it’s not one he would have thought to extend to most of Russert’s network and cable colleagues."
Noam Schreiber explains Russert's talent for making the banal platform dynamic: "Without the chance at some drama, the viewers wouldn't tune in (at least not in the same numbers). Russert's ingenious solution to this problem: The gotcha. The delicious possibility of seeing a secretary of state or joint chiefs chairman get that shifty-eyed, busted-for-filching-the-homeroom-Jolly-Rancher-stash look when they contradicted an earlier pronouncement kept us watching week after week. But the questioning was rarely so probing or aggressive or unpredictable that a reasonably agile guest couldn't study his way to a passing grade."
Joe Klein reminds us of Tim's senatorial boss, whose retirement from national politics was certainly a more noteworthy event than the election of his successor: "Tim did me a lifetime favor by introducing me to his boss, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in 1978. Moynihan became a mentor and inspiration to me, and gave me a graduate education in all things New York. Tim's favorite Moynihan story was about the time he had to pick up Pat at the Pierre Hotel in New York to take him to a dinner. Tim arrived at the hotel and heard the distinctive laugh, "Ah-ah-ah-ah-AH!" from inside the room. "Ah-ah-ah-ah-AH!" Just peals of laughter. Russert paused a minute, uncertain about bothering the boss. "Ah-ah-ah-Ah-AHH!" Finally, he knocked. "Moyns came to the door in his underwear," Tim recalled. "He'd been watching The Honeymooners.""
And Christopher Hitchens has a newish anecdote about Russert's up-to-the-millisecond fact-checking: "Not very long ago I was sitting opposite him in the studio during a break, and wanted to check some abstruse detail about the campaign. Out flashed his Blackberry and before the music came on for the next segment he had the relevant information for me and was asking someone to help print it out. I was impressed, not so much by his digital mastery, but by the amazing speed with which he could “access” anything that was germane to politics. Hard work was his secret: hard work and a certain commitment to honesty."