Monday, June 16, 2008

Just One More Russert Story

A lot has been said about Tim Russert in the 72 hours since his sudden death. Though he was obviously well-loved, and though I considered him by far to be the best and the fairest of the mainstream media interviewers, after the first few hours following the stunning news, I began to find many of the reminiscences repetitive and a little bland. Nice guy. Loved Buffalo. Loved what he did. Loved his family.

But this morning, one stood out to me for some reason. I found myself touched by the sweet rememberance of former NBC News president Michael Gartner, the man who pushed Russert out from the backstage shadows of NBC into the limelight. In all the stories over this weekend, this is one I hadn't seen told.
Finally, I told him he should be – had to be – the moderator of Meet the Press, which wasn't doing well.

"No way," he said again.

We argued. We debated. We fought. He raised objections, I shot them down. At the end, he said, "Look, I can't do it. I'm ugly." "Well, I said with a laugh, I can't argue that one (he had a chubby face that looked like it was made out of Play-Doh) but I'm not looking for a handsome guy, I'm looking for a smart one." Finally, he agreed, and in 1991 he became moderator of the show.

...The show made him rich and famous. I don't know how rich, but a few years ago, when he signed a new, long-term contract with NBC, he called me up to tell me, and he remembered his reluctance about taking the job. He laughed, and he said: "I thank you. My wife thanks you. My son thanks you. And my unborn grandchildren, however many there will be, thank you." It must have been a good deal.

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