Some six weeks after the passing of her beloved husband, Tim Russert, Maureen Orth is carrying on personally and professionally, buoyed by a flood of condolences and warm recollections of the late host of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
In her first interview since Russert’s death on June 13, Orth said she and her family were “astounded” by the heartfelt remembrances of Russert.
“We’re doing great and I’ll tell you why,” Orth explained to TODAY co-host Matt Lauer on Monday. “Because we have received so much love and concern from everyone, starting with you guys at NBC.
“Our faith has helped protect us. But also, all of this love has helped protect us, and it’s made a huge difference.”
Orth, a high-profile journalist who was promoting her latest in-depth feature — a cover story on France’s controversial first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, in the September issue of Vanity Fair — said Russert would have been tickled with how media coverage of his passing impacted today’s popular culture.
“You have to know that his People magazine cover knocked off the Summer’s Hottest Bachelors,” Orth said with a laugh. “He broke Britney Spears’ record for most hits on People.com. So this would make Tim so happy and make him laugh so hard.”
Russert’s sudden death at age 58 sent shock waves through those who knew and admired him. The longest-running moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” collapsed at the offices of WRC-TV, the location of NBC News’ Washington, D.C., bureau, of which he was chief. An autopsy determined that Russert’s history of asymptomatic coronary artery disease led to sudden cardiac arrest.
Reaction to Russert’s untimely death was swift and heartfelt, with NBC Nightly News dedicating its broadcast that night solely to Russert and tributes continuously coming from other networks and many political notables, including President Bush and presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.
On the day following his death, friend Bruce Springsteen gave an on-stage tribute to Russert, calling him “an important, unreplacable voice in American journalism” and performing “Thunder Road” in Russert’s memory.
A huge baseball fan and a member of the board of directors of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Russert was also honored with a touching video tribute prior to the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium earlier this month.
On June 16, an amazingly composed and poised Luke Russert appeared on TODAY to reflect on his father. Orth, who met Russert at the 1980 Democratic National Convention and married him three years later, said Luke, their only child, was “doing great.”
“You know, the family motto [is] ‘To whom much is given, much is expected,’ ” Orth added. “And [Luke has] really risen to the occasion. I’m very proud of him.”
Work at hand
Meanwhile, Orth is carrying on with her professional life, as evidenced by her profile of Bruni-Sarkozy in Vanity Fair. She depicts the intriguing life and current marriage of the Italian-born model and songwriter, who is said to have had affairs with Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton and former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius.
Bruni-Sarkozy, who was once quoted as being easily “bored with monogamy,” met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in November 2007. They married last February.
“She’s undeniably beautiful, a very, very gracious and a very sophisticated, cosmopolitan woman,” Orth told Lauer. “And what I liked about her is there was nobody else in the room with us. She doesn’t need handlers. She’s so self-confident. She could sit there and talk and talk and talk.”
Orth has been a special correspondent for Vanity Fair since 1993, although she first started writing for the publication in 1988. Her previous interview subjects include British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Argentinean President Carlos Menem and Irish President Mary Robinson.
In the piece, she detailed how Bruni-Sarkozy literally showed the French president nude pictures of her on the Internet, which would only galvanize the media attention of their affair. (Sarkozy’s reaction, according to Orth, was: “Woo-hoo. I like that one.”)
Orth also interviewed witnesses to the controversial couple’s first meeting last Nov. 13, with respondents describing the start of the whirlwind romance as “a clap of thunder” and “love at first sight.”
There was only one moment in the interview when Orth said she felt unnerved — when she broached the numerous and already remarked comparisons between Bruni-Sarkozy and the French president’s first wife, Cecilia.
“When I put out all of these comparisons is when she excused herself and asked if I wanted another Diet Coke,” Orth said.