OPINION/TELEVISION

Remembering Russert

Television and journalism lost a giant. Tim Russert, NBC Washington Bureau Chief and host of “Meet the Press,” died last Friday. He was 58 years old. A Los Angeles news reporter commented that the coverage of his death has been equivalent to that of a president and deeply personal. I think that’s true and deserving. I will be no less personal.

I have said for years if I was commissioned to carve a Mount Rushmore for journalists conducting live interviews, Tim Russert would be on it. There is a skill to live interviewing and through his hard work, discipline and extensive preparation, Tim elevated the process to art. He had a unique style that came across grounded and humble given his enormous position of influence. His ability to ask good questions, LISTEN and respond was supreme. Another simple measure of an individual’s skill and gift for communicating extemporaneously is to count how many times they say “um.” You could watch Tim for a month and only use one hand.

Tim was special. He interviewed world leaders on important complex issues, from what he described as a “working class roots” that made these subjects accessible to everyone. He was a tough interview but he was fair. You never felt as if he had a personal ax to grind with anyone he interviewed. He asked tough questions to make our leaders explain their beliefs, actions and vision for our future and let the viewer decide if they were convinced. If he asked the same question twice, that was a red flag.

I met Tim once at NBC’s 75th Anniversary in New York. After the broadcast, all of the on-air talent gathered together on stage for a picture. Tim was standing a few places away from me. During the show, a montage of several guests that had appeared on “Meet the Press” aired, and among all the politicians and world leaders was Allen Iverson. I was really surprised not only to see him but disappointed to have missed the interview.

As we walked off stage I called out to Tim. He turned and looked at me slightly puzzled not sure if he knew me or not. However, since we were on stage together, I’m sure he deduced I must have been connected to an NBC show. Not that I think that his reaction would have been any different if I wasn’t. I said to him “Allen Iverson was on Meet the Press?” He said “The Answer? Oh sure!” He then proceeded to engage me in conversation as if we were old friends. He stopped, looked me in the eye and talked to me with what has been described as his boyish enthusiasm, as if he was happy I stopped him, to allow him the opportunity to share with me. It was genuine. It was really cool.

Tim was so highly respected and held in such high regard, he transcended competition. It has been amazing to watch every rival network and cable show pay tribute to him. It’s an acknowledgement of his contributions and positive influence on politics and the national discourse as well the enormity of filling the void of a larger than life personality.

Writing here at Urban Thought Collective is an exciting new experience for me. I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinion, but I must confess my respect for writers and journalists has forced me to approach my blog seriously. The great thing about the internet and blogging is the open access to everyone. The flipside is the lack of universal standards and accountability.

When I sit down every week to write, I wonder if I’ve approached my entry with the same work ethic and preparation as Tim Russert. He is my standard.

I hope all of you will hold me accountable.

Let me get my remote!

Darryl Bell is an actor and Chicago native, best known for his roles in classic TV series “A Different World” and Spike Lee’s “School Daze.” His unique television commentary is exclusive to Urban Thought Collective.


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