NBC News icon 'as good as you could get'

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Tim Russert, the longtime moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press" and Washington bureau chief of the network's news division, died Friday after suffering a heart attack while recording segments for the Sunday morning public-affairs show. He was 58.

He recently returned from a trip to Italy with his wife, journalist Maureen Orth, and their son, Luke, to celebrate Luke's graduation from Boston College. He had spent the morning taping MSNBC's "The Tim Russert Show" and was working on "Press" when he collapsed. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and he died at a Washington hospital.

Under the leadership of the always tough, always fair Russert, who was the longest-serving moderator of the program since joining the show in December 1991, "Press" became the go-to stop for Washington power players and up-and-comers.

"He didn't try to trip people up," friend and "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer said. "Unlike many interviewers, he actually listened to the answers people gave, and then he would ask a follow-up, and then he would get the news. He was just about as good as you could get."

Russert was known for his persistence, often aided by audio and visual clips that challenged politicians. He spent many hours preparing, making sure that he was ready for whatever would happen either on "Press" or as co-moderator of NBC's presidential debates.

"What I've tried to bring to the program more than anything else is preparation, being as prepared or more prepared than the guests that appear," Russert told The Hollywood Reporter in April 2006. "Be persistent but be civil. There's an expectation on 'Meet the Press,' whether you're Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, that you'll be asked the tough questions."

And there were plenty of tough questions, politely but insistently delivered.

" 'Meet the Press' became probably the most serious gauntlet that a public figure had to run to establish himself as qualified, as able, as adept," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Russert represented probably the toughest interview on network television."

The Buffalo, N.Y., native traveled a long way from his working-class roots, through law school and into politics on the staffs of two well-known Democratic politicians before landing at NBC News in 1984 and quickly becoming one of the network's treasures. He made "Press" not only the top-rated Sunday morning news show, but he also was the face of its political coverage for nearly two decades.

"This news division will not be the same without his strong, clear voice," former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw said Friday afternoon in a special report announcing the passing. "He'll be missed as he was loved, greatly." (partialdiff)
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