Friday, June 13, 2008

Death of a News Legend

Tim Russert of NBC's Meet the Press and a major piece of the MSNBC team passed away today at the young age of 58. Tim Russert reminded me of a great fighter with the personality of Evander Holyfield. Holyfield was noted for being one of the nicest people outside of the ring, including to fellow well mannered boxers, but ferocious once he entered the stage. "The ring" for Russert was the TV set where he tackled the nation's leading political figures. In that arena, Russert was unrelenting. Once the lights were on, there was no time for mercy. Furthermore, his interest was only things that related to governing. He didn't dilute himself with entertainment or sports; it was virtually always politics.

Although Russert gravitated to the left politically (maybe a tribute to his blue collar roots), it was often difficult to tell during an interview. He would take on people who were all over the political map. In spite the fighter analogy, Russert was always polite and respected the office and the office holder. He wasn't condescending or insulting, he simply held people accountable. A true class act.

In addition to his notoriety as a journalist, he was well known as a family man. In fact, the only books attributed to him were not about the greatest interviews he ever had or a famous statesman he knew, but about family. Wisdom of Our Fathers was not about John Adams or Benjamin Franklin, but "Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons". His other book, Big Russ and Me, was about one of the most important relations he has ever enjoyed -- the one he had with his father who, ironically, out lived him. It is all the more sad that he passed away on Fathers Day weekend.

I have done hundreds of interviews over the years. Congressmen, Senators, Governors, Presidential Candidates, best selling authors, etc. The greater the prestige of the trappings those individuals held, the greater the pressure I felt to be more accommodative and to throw the soft ball. I never saw that type of struggle when Russert conducted an interview. He was equally tough and equally polite, regardless of who was in his cross hairs. Very few interviewers today have that gift and ability. He was part of a dying breed that is greatly missed.

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Kevin Price is Host of the Houston Business Show (M-F at 11 AM on CNN 650) and Publisher of the Houston Business Review. Hear the show live and online at HoustonBusinessShow.com. Visit the archive of past shows here.

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