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Tim Russert dies, Journalism folds: a meta-media moment

As we write this, MSNBC is into its seventh hour of sitting shiva for Tim Russert, who died suddenly this afternoon after suffering a coronary thrombosis while recording promos for the upcoming Fathers' Day edition of Meet the Press. Russert's friends and colleagues have been queueing up to offer stories to Keith Olberman, who wonders over and over whether we ought to fold up our tents and go home, as the last real journalist has left the building. (If you missed any of it, you might try turning on CNN, which is running MSNBC segments, including the already-iconic Brokaw announcement, verbatim.) If you ever wanted to see Andrea Mitchell cry, you are riveted to your television screen -- so, obviously, we are. (Partly it's because you rarely get to see any of these automatons as expressive humans. Partly because after a couple of hours of gnashing of teeth and rending of hair, we've been half-brainwashed into drinking the Olbermanian kool-aid: to wit, "OMG, WHO'S GOING TO COVER THE CAMPAIGN NOW?" This becomes a scary thought, until you remember that Russert was a man who asked pointed questions based on publicly-available information, and then you start to get angry at Olberman, because if Russert's colleagues can't follow his example in this matter, they were never worth his company to begin with.) Russert acquaintances from Colin Powell to George Siefert are in such demand that his colleague the Washington Post staff writer Sally Quinn cancelled a scheduled 4:30 chat on washingtonpost.com -- though not before leaving chatters waiting for upwards of 20 mins:

washingtonpost.com: Sally Quinn will be online at about 4:50 p.m. ET.

_______________________

washingtonpost.com: Sally Quinn is on CNN right now but should be online soon.

_______________________

washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately broadcast appareances have precluded Ms. Quinn from participating this evening.

Also, if you thought that the Post's deathblog was creepy to begin with, now -- with a smiliing trio staring down at the Russert obit headline, it just looks fucking obscene.

As almost all accounts of Russert's death have mentioned, the veteran NBC newsman had just returned from a family trip to Italy, celebrating his son Luke's graduation from Boston College. (It was not his only New England connection: in 2004, Howard Kurtz mentioned in passing that the Russerts had a Nantucket summer house, to which they annually flew a group of 17 Buffalo relatives.) This evening Boston College President, Rev. William P. Leahy, SJ, released the following statement:

"The news of Tim Russert’s death is truly a tragedy. He was an effective presence not just in politics but in matters of faith and human life. All of us at BC treasured our relationship with him and his son Luke. He will be greatly missed The BC community extends our prayers and sympathy to his family."

Luke Russert, 22, was still in Italy with his mother, Vanity Fair journalist Maureen Orth, according to family friend James Carville, who also co-hosts an XM Satellite Radio sports-talk show with young Luke. (Carville sat next to the Russerts at Washington Nationals games.) Understandably, much of the NBC family's references to Luke Russert were restrained: no one, obviously, wanted to bring up that whole Facebook hot-tub scandal. Oddly, however, though lots of television pros fondly recalled seeing the younger Russert at ballgames, and although there were dozens of opportunities to suggest that Luke Russert was doing his father proud by following in his footsteps (all involving Big Russ and Me, which was shooting up the Amazon charts as they spoke), no one mentioned Luke Russert's charmed broadcast career at the Peacock: co-hosting on Joe Scarborough's morning MSNBC gig, landing a highly sought-after internship on Conan O'Brien's show. Hmmmm.

It was within the limits of the funereal tributes to recall that Tim Russert had once been a Democratic operative, but only in order to say that doing so gave him a unique angle as a hard-working reporter -- and only if you could follow up by making some sanctified observation of Russert's impartiality, objectivity, and straight-shootingness. (Kurtz, again from 2004, on Russert's work for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: "He once leaked word to two reporters that the senator's Republican opponent had distorted his own military record, knocking the candidate out of the race and prompting the New Yorker magazine to observe that the man had been 'russerted.' ") One odd exception was Chris Matthews, piped in from the middle of the night in Paris, who looked, typically, as though he'd seen just seen himself in the mirror and couldn't quite believe the results. Rambling in Matthewsian fashion, he first allowed that he didn't know Russert the way Olberman had but wanted to point out two things. We can't recall what the first thing was. The second was that . . . Russert had initially been for the war in Iraq. Furthermore, Russert had been for the Iraq war because he'd believed the administration's claims

 

 

 

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