Saturday, June 14, 2008

The passing of Tim Russert

It's very odd to be in England and watching the coverage of the passing of Tim Russert. I found out around lunchtime on Saturday that Mr Russert died of a heart attack on Friday afternoon ... even though I've been listening to the BBC all morning.

When I logged on to the MSNBC website and found that the channel's collection of online video was for a time entirely devoted to Mr Russert's death. For those of you who don't know Tim Russert is one of the most famous political journalists in the US. I'm not sure there's a UK equivalent ... maybe Jeromy Paxman is as famous ... but Russert was famous for calm, unbiased questioning of senators, presidents, congressmen and national and international political figures of all stripes and leanings.

I knew Russert as the host of the Sunday morning political talk show 'Meet the Press' when I used to live in the US - I still watch the podcast edition of the show every week. I thought the show was always neutral and informative. Despite Russert's style of quoting politician's own words from previous interviews, the interviews were never adversarial. I've been listening to the interviews on the Beeb in the last 6 months. I remember particular a Radio 4 interview of Gordon Brown by John Humpries where the Prime Minister was given very little opportunity to say anything in between Humphries' badgering. When I contrast that the Russert interview with President Bush:

"Russert: The night you took the country to war, March 17th, you said this: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

President Bush: Right.

Russert: That apparently is not the case.

President Bush: Correct."

Russert never raised his voice... he never interrupted the president ... he just methodically asked follow up questions to allow the viewer to see when the President failed to answer specific questions.

The vast majority of interviewers on US TV are very adversarial ... I'll miss Russert's technique.

As an aside ... the Wall Street Journal's health blog notes that "300,000 Americans die of sudden cardiac arrest outside the hospital each year, according to the American Heart Association." In the UK the figure is about 208,000 (but the UK has a much smaller population). A 58 year old man who was a little rotund but appeared to be in good health dropped dead at work. Since I'm in the land of the larger binge and late night chippie ... maybe it's a good idea to get the old ticker checked out.


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