- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008

NEW YORK (AP) | Tim Russert’s chair was left empty on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, two days after his unexpected death.

But Mr. Russert was very much present on the full-hour tribute to this giant of political journalism who hosted NBC’s public-affairs program for more than 16 years.

“His voice has been stilled,” began Tom Brokaw, who led the conversation, “and our issue this sad Sunday morning is remembering and honoring our colleague and our friend.”

TWT Editorial:Tim Russert

Mr. Brokaw and a half-dozen others were seated in front of the “Meet the Press” set and its angular table, left vacant, where Mr. Russert had presided just last week.

Mr. Brokaw noted that Mr. Russert had a large wooden sign in his office that reads “Thou Shalt Not Whine,” which Mr. Brokaw then supplemented with “Thou shalt not weep or cry this morning. This is a celebration.”

But a bit later he choked up, recalling Mr. Russert’s words of awe at how far a working-class kid from Buffalo such as himself could rise - “What a country!” he would marvel. Among those gathered were presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and political pundit Mary Matalin, with Maria Shriver - the former NBC News correspondent and currently California’s first lady - on a remote hookup.

All agreed that Mr. Russert was tough but fair in his interviewing, and that he, as a former Democratic political operative himself, loved politics and politicians.

What he didn’t like, said consultant-pundit James Carville, was an elected official or anybody else who wasn’t prepared to face him.

“The biggest insult to him was someone who came on and … didn’t take the show seriously,” Mr. Carville said.

It was a mistake they quickly regretted, because Mr. Russert took his stewardship of “Meet the Press” as a sacred trust.

“He would spend all week preparing,” said executive producer Betsy Fischer.

PBS’ Gwen Ifill, a former NBC correspondent, called the program “The Church of Tim.”

“I would actually get a pass from my own pastor to not be in church on Sunday if I was gonna be on ‘Meet the Press,’ ” she said with a smile.

However fitting Sunday’s tribute, it was a cruel irony that Mr. Russert had become the big story, particularly in the midst of a like-no-other presidential race that he was covering with his customary gusto. Guests he had planned to grill Sunday were senior officials from both campaigns.

Several tape montages on Sunday’s tribute displayed Mr. Russert in action, pressing subjects from Ross Perot to Louis Farrakhan. Politicos such as Democratic Sens. John Kerry, of Massachusetts, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, of New York, were seen telling Mr. Russert they had no interest in running for the White House.

There was no immediate word on who would host “Meet the Press” next week, or in the weeks after that.

Drawing the program to a close, Mr. Brokaw observed “this would not have been just another Sunday for Tim; This is Father’s Day.” Regular viewers of “Meet the Press” knew Mr. Russert was a devoted son (of “Big Russ,” about whom he wrote in a best-selling memoir) and father (to son Luke).

But the final moments - eerily yet aptly - were of Mr. Russert signing off from his host’s chair, proud and cheery, with Father’s Day greetings to all. For an instant, viewers might have wondered: Who will Mr. Russert be grilling next week?

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