"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Edmund Burke - British Statesman and Philosopher 1729-1797
Yes, this quote is as common on the WWW as the mistaken notion that the Chinese pictograph for Crisis having a dual meaning of Opportunity. It is easy to espouse and believe in the notion of being an involved, active bystander with a conscience - a good man/woman willing to act and "do the right thing" in the face of wrong. So often, however, that is not the case. Tim Russert spent his life ensuring that he was doing all he could to prevent "evil" from occurring. He was not one to sit on the sidelines and watch, nor was he one to turn a blind eye to that which he knew was wrong.
The barren moral wasteland of professional journalism is littered with the bleached carcasses of those who became beholden to that which they set out to hold to the light of truth. Many stop reporting the news and become the story. Many acquiesce to the glitter of star power and become unable or unwilling to regain their objectivity. Many just stop caring, become bitter and refuse to use their gift to its potential or keep from pressing on towards the facts. Still, some willingly aid and abed what they know to be less than above board, this is even more prevalent in politics where the use of influence peddling, favors and markers are legendary.
What does all this psychobabble have to do with the price of tea in China? Nothing, other than the fact that Timothy John Russert was a journalist, political commentator, television personality and human being who got it right. He was best known for anchoring and reinventing the hard hitting political news program "Meet the Press," that he had hosted since 1991. But to look only at his success on "Meet the Press," where he grilled leaders of both parties with unparalleled skill and vigor, would be to shortchange a man who lived the idea that everyday understanding of the importance of political issues and their impact on the future is not only important, but also each of our sacred duties. He believed that politics was something that each of us should try to understand to the best of our abilities, because the choices made by those for whom we vote will ultimately dictate the future of our nation. This is something he did not take lightly, whether it was hosting "Meet the Press," acting as Chief Political Correspondent for MSNBC, moderating a National political debate, anchoring the Washington Bureau of NBC news or bringing the vastness of the National election right into the living rooms of America with an ease, clarity and conciseness not seen before or since in American political journalism.
I happen to be a "Meet the Press" junkie. Tim was one of my Sunday morning TV buddies when I lived and worked in D.C. for three years. My roommates and I got up, got coffee and were on the couch at 9am waiting to see what politician would not take him seriously or give half-truth answers to Russert, knowing full well that he would then close the trap door and eviscerate that politico with questions and news footage often showing the "guest" saying the exact opposite of what he had just uttered. His unrelenting questioning style backed by his unwavering sense of integrity and honesty brought him respect and admiration from politicos on both sides of the aisle. "I can say from experience that joining Tim on "Meet the Press" was one of the greatest tests any public official could face," said Rep. John Boehner, House Republican leader. "Regardless of party affiliation, he demanded that you be straight with him and with the American people who were watching."
One of the things I loved most about Tim Russert was that he was approachable. He was a real person in a town full of people that could not figure out who they were supposed to be from one minute to the next. He loved sports, especially hockey, and it showed. He never hesitated asking one of his guests about the Buffalo Sabres, when they were on the top of their game. He was a blue collar kid from Western New York who went to Woodstock in a Sabres jersey carrying a case of beer. He was one of us. As recently as the first round of the playoffs, Russert was at it again. He urged on his adopted team, the Washington Caps, versus the Flyers. (please follow this link)
As he worked for the late-Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) in the late 1970s, a young Tim Russert confided in the Senator that he was not sure he was cut out for "the big leagues" with all the Ivy League intellect that is so prevalent in Washington. Senator Moynihan summed up Tim Russert's unusual gift and future accolades when he pulled that young man aside and said, "Tim, what they know, you can learn. What you know, they'll never understand." And learn he did.
There are those who have eulogized Tim Russert's life and career far more eloquently than I ever could hope to. For what it is worth, however, I will remember Tim Russert as someone who cared about right and wrong, someone who got involved in our political process and tried to make it less overwhelming and more approachable, a man who loved his country and all its potential and someone who loved hockey enough to talk about it on the National stage.
So, you can have your Tiger Woods. I'll stick with a hockey fan. Rest in peace, Tim.
Thanks for reading...
(since pasting the object did not seem to work...please follow this link to hear friend and colleague, Tom Brokaw, announce Russert's death)