by Chris Matthews
He was a character right from Mark Twain. You know, the first kid to go barefoot in the summer, the first to wear shoes in the winter. He was a colleague, a role model—and let’s be honest this day—a rival. You couldn’t keep up with the guy. He heard it first. Better yet, saw it first. Saw what it meant and saw the path where this new bit of news led.
Like Huck Finn, Tim Russert knew things about life that were in nobody’s notebook. He got the story first because he just “got it.” That’s how he exposed David Duke as a racist by simply asking him to name the leading employers in the state. This guy had been trying to say his campaign for governor was “about economics.”
He saw that Clarence Thomas would make it past the confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court because his accuser—Anita Hill—testified in the afternoon and Thomas got to testify in primetime.
He knew on that horrid morning of September 11th that the hijackers had grabbed the transcontinental flights because they’d have enough fuel to melt the girders of the World Trade towers.
He was like that other Mark Twain character, Tom Sawyer. He got us to think it was fun to whitewash the fence because he was having so much fun “doing” it. As a newsman, Tim managed to make Sunday morning a hot news spot. As a fan, he made Buffalo cool.
He was, of course, Irish. Being Irish, he tended and fought for his turf always with pride whether for his hometown team or his show. “If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press”—you can’t do better than that.
More than that, he defended his country. It was something watching him catch the pretense behind the pander, the trace of charlatan that graces the best as well as the worst of our politicians. And because he could, we could see the truth behind that well-guarded hedge.
People ask me, will now ask me as long as I live, what was he like?
To them, to you right now, I say: Trust your instincts. He was the guy you saw—tough, regular, hardworking, delighted with what he was doing, and something else you probably figured: great company. We will miss him, this man of sterner stuff.