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NBC host Tim Russert, 58, dies of heart attack
Nick Juliano
Published: Friday June 13, 2008

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Famed political commentator and Meet the Press host Tim Russert died Friday afternoon after collapsing at the NBC news bureau.

Russert, who was an NBC News vice president and the network's Washington bureau chief, was 58 years old.

The cause of death appeared to be a sudden heart attack. He reportedly collapsed in NBC's Washington studio while recording voice overs for a segment on this Sunday's Meet the Press.

Longtime NBC anchor Tom Brokaw choked up as he delivered the news around 3:40 p.m. eastern time Friday.

"This was one of the most important years in Tim's life for so many reasons," Brokaw said. "He loved this political campaign. He worked to the point of exhaustion so many weeks."

It was not unusual to see Russert appear regularly on NBC's Today Show or MSNBC's Morning Joe at 7 a.m., then see him anchoring the network's coverage of primary returns that same evening, more than 12 hours later.

One of the most recognizable faces in journalism, Russert was a force in analyzing the political scene and relished in covering presidential campaigns. His became famous for calling up old quotes from politicians during interviews on Meet the Press.

Time magazine named Russert one of its 100 most influential people this year.

An example of Russert's influence was visible last month, after the Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, when he declared, "We now know who the Democratic nominee's gonna be." Perhaps more than any other moment during the campaign, this declaration shifted the zeitgeist behind Barack Obama and put him on an unshakable path to the nomination.

Raised in Buffalo, NY, Russert authored a widely regarded memoir about his father, Big Russ and Me, and a follow-up collection of letters he received from fans of the first book. He was married to Maureen Orth, a writer for Vanity Fair Magazine. The couple had one son, Luke.

The news was greeted with sadness across the political and media worlds Friday.

Presidential candidates Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain both weighed in with their own condolences.

Obama spoke to reporters in Columbus, Ohio.

"We all I think have heard the news about Tim Russert. I've known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He's somebody who over time I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend," the Democratic candidate said. "There wasn't a better interviewer in television not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew. Somebody who cared about America, cared about the issues, cared about family. I am grief-stricken with the loss, and my thoughts and prayers go out to his family. I hope that even though Tim is irreplaceable, that the standard that he set in his professional life and his family life are standards that we all carry with us in our own lives."

McCain issued a statement on Russert's passing.

"I am very saddened by Tim Russert's sudden death. Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the preeminent political journalist of his generation," said the presumptive GOP nominee. "He was truly a great American who loved his family, his friends, his Buffalo Bills, and everything about politics and America. He was just a terrific guy. I was proud to call him a friend, and in the coming days, we will pay tribute to a life whose contributions to us all will long endure."

President Bush, informed while at dinner in Paris, swiftly issued a statement of condolence that praised the NBC newsman as "an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it."

Former president Bill Clinton and his wife, former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), said in a joint statement: "We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing of today of Tim Russert. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maureen, his son Luke, his father who we have all come to know as Big Russ, his extended family and colleagues and NBC who have suffered a tremendous loss. Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim has a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him."

Carl P. Leubsdorf, president of the Gridiron Club, an organization of journalists, said in a statement, "It was a measure of the degree to which Tim Russert was respected in the journalistic world that he was the first broadcaster elected to membership in the Gridiron Club after the rules were changed in 2004 to end our century-old restriction to print journalists."

"He was an enthusiastic member and a willing participant in our shows. His fellow Gridiron members join with all of those who knew and respected Tim in mourning his untimely death."

"Tim will be sorely missed because his years as Senate staffer and probing TV journalist gave him special insights on political and governmental issues," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. "Had he chosen law as a career, his cross-examination would have made him a star in that field as well."

2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said, "Today’s awful news about Tim Russert’s sudden passing is a swift kick for everyone who knew, respected, and loved Tim and had the honor of sharing his company. It's hard to describe the shock. Tim was the best political newsman of his generation, and he was a trailblazer in the unique way he brought his personal love of politics, honed by Moynihan and Cuomo, right into our living rooms every Sunday. Tim was at once brilliant and insightful while always approachable, always accessible, and always your next door neighbor and your friend who was there to referee the debates of the big issues of our time. He relished that role and he excelled at it, as any one would who believed in the tenets of Jesuit education. He loved to hold the big guys accountable and in the original, intelligent, studied way he did it he emerged as the biggest guy of all. It is impossible to overstate how much Tim was inseparable from American politics. When I decided to announce for President, the only place to do it was on ‘Meet the Press.’ It is impossible to imagine political life without him as our guide every Sunday. But it is even more difficult to find the words to express our sympathy for Maureen, Luke, his father Big Russ, and Tim's family at NBC. Tim, Maureen, and their family will remain in our thoughts and prayers a long, long time."

Former Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) stated, "Tim Russert established new standards for incisive, analytical reporting. In a time of 24-hour news cycles and their clipped attention spans, Tim Russert could be counted on to go deep into a subject matter and make it readily understandable to masses of people. His death is a loss not only for the journalism profession which he ennobled with his presence, but it is a loss for the nation which will miss his commitment to making journalism a force for truth and justice. My deepest condolences go out to the Russert Family and to his family at NBC."

House Democratic Caucus chair Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) issued the following statement: "Tim Russert was the best in the business. He was a tough journalist who always asked the hard questions, and his insight and dedication to his craft earned him the respect of millions of viewers. America has lost a trusted voice and I'll miss the chance to talk politics with one of the best reporters I've had the privilege to know. My prayers are with the Russert family today."

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), who appeared on Meet the Press five times, said he was "shocked" to learn of Russert's untimely death. "His keen insights and analysis had an unparalleled impact on television news and politics," Feingold said. "I’m grateful for the exchanges we shared over the years and he will be profoundly missed.”

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said in a statement, "Anyone who knew Tim Russert personally and the millions who knew him from his years at NBC News knew that he loved life and lived every moment of it. Even though he had reached the professional pinnacle of the political news world, you always knew and he always knew that he was just a kid from Buffalo and he never forgot it. Tim was genuinely charming but as anyone who came to the set of Meet the Press unprepared can tell you, he was direct, tough and gave no quarter. His experience working with Gov. Mario Cuomo and Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan gave him an insight few in the journalism world can match.

"It is particularly poignant to lose such a dedicated father and a son who so honored his father in his book 'Big Russ and Me' just before Father's Day," continued Gingrich. "Tim's life serves as a model and a reminder for everyone to cherish the ones you love. I considered him my friend and I will miss him. Callista and I are praying for him and those who loved him."

NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell called him the "preeminent journalist of our time."

"An unbelievable shock," wrote Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder; "this city will all but shut down over the next few days, so vital was he to its voice."

American Prospect blogger Ezra Klein pointed to Russert's 2002 interview with Dick Cheney, during which the host questioned the vice president's attempt to roll out the administration's case to invade Iraq.

"If the press had been as skeptical and aggressive in the run-up to the war as Russert was on that morning, sitting next to the vice president, we never would have invaded Iraq," Klein wrote. "But for now, it's going to be strange indeed to turn on the TV on Sundays and not hear his voice. Presumably, he's up somewhere beyond the cloudline, hectoring God about His inconsistencies. 'But Lord, in Exodus 6:12, you clearly said...'"

Jane Hamsher, one of many bloggers who was a frequent critic of Russert's, shared a fitting tribute at Firedoglake.

"Dave Winer said that 'the Internet destabilizes every hierarchy it contacts.' Russert stood as a symbol of an institutional journalistic hierarchy for many of us, and bloggers right and left railed against him mightily. He took arrows on behalf of many who practiced the journalism of his era, and stood his ground," she wrote. "Condolences to all his friends and family."

With wire reports

This video is from MSNBC, broadcast June 13, 2008.

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