Civil Persistence

John McCaslin

11/14/2007 10:34:37 AM - John McCaslin

Look for Tim Russert to be front and center at the new Nationals Park after it was announced this week that Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate Mass for 45,000 Washington-area faithful in mid-April.

"I saw John Paul II at Yankee Stadium, so it's only fitting that I see Pope Benedict at the Nationals' ballpark," said NBC's "Meet the Press" host, who is always good for a pope tale or two.

"When John Paul II first came to Washington — I think it was in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was president — I brought my dad, 'Big Russ,' to the White House — you know, this guy from Buffalo. First of all, to be on the lawn of the White House and observe the president and the pope. But he was very taken by the day because he was seated next to Colonel Sanders. That made a big impression," Mr. Russert laughed during an interview yesterday.

"But then the pope came down the aisle and shook hands, and my dad had these forearms from working hard as a truck driver and a sanitation worker, and he just locked the pope in this vice," at which point Mr. Russert pleaded, "Dad, unhand him!"

We caught up with the popular Sunday morning news host because this evening, flanked by newsmakers from the past six decades, Mr. Russert will celebrate 60 years of "Meet the Press" during a star-studded gala at the Newseum's "Great Hall of News."

"It's an extraordinary history, the longest-running television program in the history of the world — news, entertainment or sports, it's the one fixture," noted Mr. Russert. "I had the opportunity to actually spend some time with Lawrence Spivak when I took over the show 16 years ago. I went to his apartment [at the Sheraton-Park Hotel], which was a shrine to 'Meet the Press.'

"And I asked him a simple question: When he founded the show, what was the mission back in the 1940s? And he said to learn as much as you can about your guest and his or her position on the issues and then take the other side. And do that in a persistent way, but a civil way. And you will develop an expectation for the program that will, in effect, be timeless. And it was great advice."

Mr. Russert added he's "either watched or read all 3,000 transcripts" of "Meet the Press" dating back to 1947, to "get a sense of the institutional history."

"I view it very much as a national treasure, and I am the temporary custodian and try to take care of it, and hopefully pass it off in good shape one day," he said.

Honest politician

"Get ready. You're going to hear a lot of fuzzy math, obfuscation and general BS here on the floor today."

— Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, as Congress went back into session in recent days.

Lawyers in arms

Word is there are more lawyers in the District on a per-capita basis than in any other city in the world, and this morning, they will march en masse in support of lawyers and the rule of law in Pakistan.

"Images this week of police beating and jailing almost 3,000 Pakistani lawyers were almost as shocking as Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspending Pakistan's Constitution and putting its Supreme Court under house arrest," William H. Neukom, president of the American Bar Association, wrote to his fellow lawyers.

He says a "critical mass of lawyers" will gather at 11:30 a.m. at the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE, and march around the U.S. Supreme Court. "Attire: Black suit," reads the invitation.

Preserving freedom

"Fear of the uncertain" in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is no reason to curtail staff-led tours of the U.S. Capitol, said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, who introduced a resolution to preserve the congressional perk.

Senate Historian Richard A. Baker asserted staff-led tours have always existed, and Mr. Moran considers them an honored custom. Separate tours led by professional staff, known as the Capitol Guide Service, were established in 1876 at a cost of 25 cents per person. Not until 1971 were those tours offered for free.

Not a Republican

Most obsequious public statement of the week honors go to Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat, who stated: "I just realized that yesterday ... I voted 'aye.' I meant to vote 'nay' because, as a Democrat, I would never do anything that would inflict harm upon my Hispanic brothers and sisters."