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Tim Russert: Tough on Liberals and Conservatives

Monday, 16 Jun 2008 11:13 PM

By Christopher Ruddy

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Tim Russert is dead. It is a terrible loss for the country.

When the news first hit, I thought maybe Russert was a casualty of this grueling primary campaign we just experienced. The battle for the Democratic nomination began well over a year ago — and just wrapped up after a torturous struggle.

Russert was on top of the story minute-by-minute. He was said to be a workaholic. One wonders how much the campaign may have added to his normal stress load.

Also, it was eerie to find Russert on the cover of Newsmax magazine’s July edition. The day before his death we had just received printed copies at our office of the new edition.

Our cover story, “The Power and the Glory: The 52 Talking Heads Who Want to Pick Our Next President,” featured a serious-looking Russert framed by a television screen.

There is no question Russert was a powerhouse who exerted incredible influence. In our report, we credited him for making Sen. Hillary Clinton stumble during her November 2007 Philadelphia debate with her fellow Democratic candidates. It was the beginning of Hillary’s political fall.

There has been much talk of his balance and fairness since Russert died. I generally agree with that sentiment, though I detected he was harsher in his line of attack against Hillary and was secretly rooting for Sen. Barack Obama.

Apparently, since his death, the liberal blogs have gone wild criticizing Russert for his tough questioning of fellow liberals.

I will never forget the time he spent his whole program shredding DNC chief Howard Dean. Russert spent almost the entire program exposing various Dean flip-flops. It was so over the top, I felt sorry for Dean. Dean recently joked that he had been “eviscerated” by Russert.

For sure, Russert was the first national journalist in my lifetime to ask really tough questions. He asked them to both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. It was totally refreshing. It was reality TV for politics.

Russert’s success came as a big, albeit pleasant, surprise for conservatives. When Russert took the helm of “Meet the Press” conservatives were angry. Russert had worked for Democrats Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo. How could a former political aide chair one of the nation’s leading Sunday news programs and remain fair and impartial?

Strangely, Russert’s Democratic credentials gave him license to be a tough questioner. Had a former Republican staffer tried Russert’s act, he would have never made it on the air.

Clearly, Russert enjoyed touching on topics the mainstream media would ignore. I remember fondly Russert’s mention of Newsmax magazine.

In our early days back in 2001, Russert was interviewing Sen. John McCain one Sunday when he caught the Arizona senator off guard.

“We may have a fusion ticket, right here," Russert said as he pulled out a copy of Newsmax magazine.

Our cover story that month featured both McCain and Hillary Clinton, with the headline: "Democrats' Dream Ticket?"

"They're predicting a John McCain-Hillary Clinton ticket," Russert said, pointing to our Newsmax cover.

"That's wonderful," McCain told Russert.

"So we can toss that one away?" asked Russert.

“I think so,” McCain said.

Interestingly, McCain never did run with Hillary on a presidential ticket. But when 2004 rolled around, he explored joining Democrat John Kerry as his running mate.

Maybe Russert knew we were on to something when we ran that cover way back when.

He was a smart guy, Tim Russert was.

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