Tim Russert Knew What Really Mattered

It’s hard to believe that Tim Russert has been dead nearly a month. I try to learn from everyone, and the main thing I learned from Russert is that you can have strong opinions, yet be respectful in your discussions with those of opposing views.

When I was young, I was convinced that all so-called liberals were evil. It was an immature assumption on my part. Over the years, I came to realize that there are millions of liberals who, while they may be confused or uninformed, have good intentions.

Unfortunately, there are many liberal newscasters whose ideology is deeply rooted in the soil of guiltism and angerism. Fortunately, however, there are many other liberal commentators who really do mean well, and who show it by being both reasonable and civil on the air. I would include in this group Juan Williams, Kirsten Powers, Lanny Davis, Marc Ginsberg, Gov. Bill Richardson, and Mike Wallace.

Which brings me to Tim Russert. They say the camera never lies, and, based on my experience, I have always believed that to be true. So much so that I am convinced that most Americans “know” TV commentators on an almost personal level.

I can say without exception that I have never been surprised by the personality of anyone who has interviewed me on TV. I was fortunate enough to appear on The Merv Griffin Show twice, and Merv was the same kind and gracious guy in person that you saw on your television screen. I found the same to be true of Mike Douglas and David Hartman, among others.

On the other side of the coin, based on what I had seen of him on TV over the years, I felt like I was going to an execution (mine!) when led into Tom Brokaw’s office for a “pre-interview” discussion many years ago. I said hello to Brokaw, but he pretended not to hear me (or see me), didn’t look up, and continued to work (or pretend to work) on some papers on his desk.

The interview itself was short and ugly. He had obviously never even bothered to thumb through my book, and he was clearly agitated by the fact that he had to lower himself to being on camera with me. Needless to say, when it was over, we didn’t shake hands or share goodbyes.

In fairness to Brokaw, I will say that he not only was a master at his craft, I also believe he mellowed over the years and tried to become more evenhanded in his approach to interviews. If you read his book The Greatest Generation, you could tell that the man had matured a great deal and changed for the better. And Brokaw handled the tribute that NBC aired for Tim Russert the Friday after he passed away in a superb and touching manner.

As to Russert, like everyone else, I was stunned that he checked out so suddenly, without warning, at such a young age. In that respect, I rank the shock of his death right up there with Princess Diana’s and John F. Kennedy Jr.’s. The difference was that you felt, unlike Princess Diana and Kennedy, that you kind of knew Tim Russert, because he was on television every week, much of the time talking directly to you.

I always thought I would like to be interviewed by Russert, even knowing that he would be tough as nails. But I also knew he would be fair. That was his trademark. I admired him for being a lifelong liberal who was fair and polite even with the hardest of the hard-line conservatives who appeared on Meet the Press.

What really won me over to Tim Russert, however, was his unabashed love for his father and son. He never concealed his devotion to his wife, but it was the way he magnified the special bond between grandfather, son, and grandson that became a hallmark for him after the success of his book Big Russ & Me. When he said on the air (to his son), “I love you, Luke,” every father had to be moved by it. I’ve always been turned off by celebrities who act as though they don’t have a family.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Tim Russert, but I can honestly say that I’m one of the millions whose lives he touched – with the way he handled himself on television, with his outward affection for his father and son, and with the memories of all that he stood for as a man. It makes the silliness over such abstracts as “conservatism” and liberalism” seem pretty irrelevant.

The truth is that being kind, gracious, polite, and civil have nothing whatsoever to do with most of the stuff people babble about these days – especially politicians and media folks.

In your own life, whatever you believe on the political front, make sure that you aim for the qualities that make you a good human being. Be fair. Be kind. Don’t be afraid to show your love for your family. You’ll win admiration and respect from people everywhere.

[Ed. Note: Becoming more likable is one of the most under-appreciated keys to success. It can garner admiration and respect from colleagues and potential partners alike. Follow Robert Ringer’s suggestions today, and you could increase your income many times over. For a treasure chest of proven ideas, strategies, and techniques, check out Robert’s best-selling dealmaking audio series.

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Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is a New York Times #1 bestselling author and host of the highly acclaimed Liberty Education Interview Series, which features interviews with top political, economic, and social leaders. He has appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, The Tonight Show, Today, The Dennis Miller Show, Good Morning America, The Lars Larson Show, ABC Nightline, and The Charlie Rose Show, and has been the subject of feature articles in such major publications as Time, People, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Barron's, and The New York Times.