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Video: Tom Brokaw: ‘This is a celebration’

  1. Transcript of: Tom Brokaw: ‘This is a celebration’

    MEET THE PRESS NBC NEWS (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

    MR. TOM BROKAW: "Our issues this Sunday." Tim Russert started every edition of MEET THE PRESS with those four words, and those were the words that he was preparing to record when he collapsed and died on Friday at these NBC studios in Washington . Now, his moderator's chair is empty, his voice has been stilled and our issue this sad Sunday morning is remembering and honoring our colleague and our friend with some of the men and women who worked with him and appeared here on MEET THE PRESS , who knew him best and loved him most.

    I'm Tom Brokaw . There are so many stories that we could tell about Tim , so many moments that shaped and defined him and our nation. But, in this hour that Tim occupied so proudly and did so well, we will focus on the remarkable things that he did right here on MEET THE PRESS , a program that he called a " national treasure ," of which he said he was only the temporary custodian. For 17 years, of course, he was so much more than all of that. His great friend, the Pulitzer Prize - winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin , is with us this morning.

    And it seems to me, Doris , that in the future, historians will have a rich archive in the MEET THE PRESS recordings of the people who have passed through these studios -- who they were, how they evolved and what they became.

    MS. DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: No question about that. I mean, think about the 19th century . We had diaries, we had letters. That's what allows historians to re-create those people who lived then. In this broadcast world, what these recordings will show people years from now is not just the questions he asked, not even just the answers he got, but which people were able to acknowledge errors, which people ruffled under his questions, which ones could share a laugh. You'll get the temperament of these people. They're going to come alive. You know, he loved that " Meet the Press Minute" at the end, where the history could come back. And I keep imagining that maybe four or five election cycles from now, when we're in our 80s, we'll be dragged back to a bunch of young journalists and, and they will, they will say to us, "You knew Tim Russert ? You were there with him?" And we'll be able to know that we knew this man with this boyish enthusiasm. That's what the records won't show, but we'll know that.

    MR. BROKAW: What we should hope when we get into our 80s, however, is that they will not bring back some of the judgments that we made here on MEET THE PRESS of that time.

    MS. KEARNS GOODWIN: Right. Sanitize that.

    MR. BROKAW: Tim has a very large wooden sign in his office, and it's going to be our mantra for this morning. It says, "Thou shall not whine." And if I could add, I think, anything to that, thou shall not weep or cry this morning. This is a celebration, a time to remember. And if there was a signature for MEET THE PRESS under the guidance of Tim Russert , the questions were tough but always fair. Let's take a look at some of those questions, tough and fair, over the years here on MEET THE PRESS , and then talk about that.

    (Videotape, November 10, 1991 )

    MR. TIM RUSSERT: If I told you it was 25 percent of your state lived below the poverty line , would you believe me?

    Mr. DAVID DUKE : I could believe you, yes, sir.

    MR. RUSSERT: Are these the kinds of things that governors should know, who the largest employers are, how many people live below the poverty line ?

    (Videotape, May 3, 1992 )

    MR. ROSS PEROT: Just say...

    MR. RUSSERT: You said that part of your $40 billion deficit reduction plan...

    MR. PEROT: Now, what I have also told your program today...

    MR. RUSSERT: ...is $180 billion.

    Mr. PEROT : Yes. May I finish?

    MR. RUSSERT: May I finish? It's a simple question.

    MR. PEROT: Well, you've already finished.

    MR. RUSSERT: Well, I, I...

    MR. PEROT: Go, finish again.

    MR. RUSSERT: Let's, let's -- please, please.

    MR. PEROT: It's your, it's your program, you can do anything you want to with it.

    (Videotape, November 7, 1993 )

    MR. RUSSERT: Will you allow North Korea to build a nuclear bomb ?

    FMR. PRES. BILL CLINTON: North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb . We have to be very firm about it.

    (Videotape, October 13, 1996 )

    MR. RUSSERT: Filegate, Travelgate , Whitewater -- what's wrong with those as legitimate issues?

    FMR. VICE PRES. AL GORE: Look at all this Whitewater stuff. What's come out of it? Absolutely nothing.

    (Videotape April 13, 1997 )

    MR. RUSSERT: Would you be willing to retract or apologize for some of the things you said?

    Mr. LOUIS FARRAKHAN : If I can defend every word that I speak and every word that I speak is truth, then I have nothing to apologize for.

    (Videotape, February 8, 2004 )

    MR. RUSSERT: In light of not finding the weapons of mass destruction , do you believe the war in Iraq is a war of choice or a war of necessity?

    PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: I think it's a -- that's an interesting question. Please elaborate on that a little bit. A war of choice or a war of necessity? It's a war of necessity.

    (Videotape, September 4, 2005 )

    MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, you say pre-staged. People were sent to the convention center . There was no water, no food, no beds, no authorities there. There as no planning.

    SEC'Y MICHAEL CHERTOFF: We'll have time to go back and do an after-action report. But the time right now is to look at what the enormous tasks ahead are.

    MR. RUSSERT: Many Americans believe now is the time for accountability.

    (Videotape, May 27, 2007 )

    GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Look, I was asked -- I shouldn't have said that, so you're going to -- I've been in public life 25 years. You're going to find a lot of these, and it seems you've found them all here.

    MR. RUSSERT: No, I'm just trying to set the record, I'm trying to give you a chance to respond, which is fair.

    GOV. RICHARDSON: All right. OK.

    (Videotape, April 2, 2006 )

    MR. RUSSERT: Senator John McCain , thanks for joining us and sharing your views.

    SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I haven't had so much fun since my last interrogation.

updated 6/15/2008 1:19:49 PM ET 2008-06-15T17:19:49

Tim Russert's chair was empty on "Meet the Press" on Sunday, two days after his unexpected death.

But Russert was very much present on the full-hour tribute to this giant of political journalism who hosted NBC's public-affairs program for more than 16 years.

"His voice has been stilled," began Tom Brokaw, who led the conversation, "and our issue this sad Sunday morning is remembering and honoring our colleague and our friend ...."

Brokaw and a half-dozen others were seated in front of the "Meet the Press" set and its angular table, left vacant, where Russert had presided as recently as last week.

Brokaw noted that Russert had a large wooden sign in his office that read: "Thou Shalt Not Whine," which Brokaw then supplemented with "Thou shalt not weep or cry this morning. This is a celebration."

But a bit later he choked up, recalling Russert's words of awe at how far a working-class kid from Buffalo like himself could rise: "What a country!" he would marvel.

Among those gathered were presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and political pundit Mary Matalin, with Maria Shriver — the former NBC News correspondent and currently California's first lady — on a remote hookup.

Tough but fair
All agreed that Russert was tough but fair in his interviewing, and that he, as a former political operative himself, loved politics and politicians.

What he didn't like, said consultant-pundit James Carville, was an elected official or anybody else who wasn't prepared to face him.

"The biggest insult to him was someone who came on and ... didn't take the show seriously," Carville said.

It was a mistake they quickly regretted, because Russert took his stewardship of "Meet the Press" as a sacred trust.

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"He would spend all week preparing," said executive producer Betsy Fischer.

PBS' Gwen Ifill, a former NBC correspondent, called the program "The Church of Tim."

"I would actually get a pass from my own pastor to not be in church on Sunday if I was gonna be on `Meet the Press,'" she said with a smile.

MSNBC commentator Mike Barnicle added that Russert's son, Luke, had told him the day before that the program was "Tim's second son."

However fitting Sunday's tribute, it was a cruel irony that Russert had become the big story, particularly in the midst of a like-no-other presidential race that he was covering with his customary gusto. Guests he had planned to grill Sunday were senior officials from both campaigns.

All that changed with Russert's death from a heart attack Friday. He was stricken while preparing for the broadcast at his network's Washington bureau.

NBC aired a prime-time tribute Friday night, then devoted Saturday's "Today" show to his life and career. His passing dominated rival cable-news networks and news-talk shows.

Face of politics news for NBC
Russert was the face of political news for NBC as well as cable sibling MSNBC, serving as chief political analyst, a frequent correspondent and an election-night fixture, besides his off-camera duties as NBC News' Washington bureau chief.

He had become almost synonymous with the top-rated "Meet the Press," the TV institution he reinvented while becoming an institution himself. He had been its host since 1991 when the show, the longest-running on television, already was in its 45th year.

Several tape montages on Sunday's tribute displayed Russert in action, pressing subjects from Ross Perot to Louis Farrakhan. Politicos including John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton were seen telling Russert they had no interest in running for the White House.

The abrupt void Russert leaves is unprecedented in network TV news. Even the tragic death of ABC News anchor Peter Jennings in 2005 followed his much-publicized battle with lung cancer and his four-month absence from the airwaves.

There was no immediate word on who would host "Meet the Press" next week, or in the weeks after that.

Drawing the program to a close, Brokaw observed "this would not have been just another Sunday for Tim: This is Father's Day." Any regular viewer of "Meet the Press" knew Russert was a devoted son (of "Big Russ," about whom he wrote in a best-selling memoir) and father (to Luke).

But the final moments — eerily yet aptly — were of Russert signing off from his host's chair, proud and cheery, with Father's Day greetings to all. For an instant, viewers might have wondered: Who will Russert be grilling next week?

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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