At 3:32 p.m., June 13, the Washington Post news alert hit my iPhone. Tim Russert, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and Washington bureau chief, had died. My heart ached for his family. The news was shocking and sad, particularly because Russert was so vital and young. He was a good man, with more to offer the world, especially in this presidential race. When reporting Russert’s death, former “Nightly News” Anchor Tom Brokaw noted, “This news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice.”
Russert was a force in America’s political landscape who could be counted on to ask the hard questions and raise the level of play and engagement of the guests on “Meet the Press.” He was a champion of everyday people and asked questions in their stead. In an age where authenticity is rare, he was the real thing.
Over the past two decades, I met Russert a few times. Last year, when he moderated the debate at the Cooper Union of Science and Art in New York City between former Gov. Mario Cuomo and my dad, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, he used crutches, due to an injury, to enter the stage door. But he walked out on stage and out the front door at the end of the event without assistance. This kept the focus on issues and ideas rather than his injury. Through his action and questions, Russert revealed himself to be a professional, down-to-earth, hardworking man who loved his country. He will be sorely missed.
Denise Grady’s June 17, 2008 New York Times article, “A Search for Answers in Russert’s Death,” tries to explain why a man of Russert’s youth (he was just 58) and apparent good health had died so suddenly. The answer, according to Grady, at least in part, is that Russert’s doctors did not realize how severe his coronary heart disease was because he had neither chest pain nor other symptoms that would have led them to carry out “invasive tests needed to make a definitive diagnosis.” That is also true for half of the men who die of coronary heart disease.