Remembering Russert: The Meet the Press Tribute

By Chris Ariens 

“This is a celebration. A time to remember,” began Tom Brokaw as he hosted a special edition of Meet the Press this morning.

Seated in a semi-circle in front of the table Russert presided over for nearly 17 years, a panel made up of Russert’s friends and frequent guests reminisced. Husband and wife James Carville and Mary Matalin reflected on Russert’s no-matter-what fellowship. “You weren’t just his friend when you were in, [but] if you were out of office. He still called you,” said Matalin, holding hands with her husband during much of the program. Executive producer Betsy Fischer talked about the “serious show” in which, “we had a lot of fun.”

Gwen Ifill recounted her appearance on Meet the Press after the Don Imus firing, in which she challenged Russert for not saying something sooner. “After that, a lot of people said ‘you spoke truth to power, you really got in Russert’s grill that day.’ And I said to every single person, I don’t know anybody else who would have said, ‘come in my house and tell me that.’ But we were still friends.”

Mike Barnicle reminisced about his friend’s love of sports and how he would pull for your team. Barnicle, the Boston native, said Russert called him Thursday night: “I’m in New York, the Celtics/Lakers game. I’m trying to fall asleep in a hotel room, the phone rings, ‘hey, buddy, you see what’s going on out there?'”

Maria Shriver, appearing from Sun Valley, Idaho, told the story of her reporting trip to Cuba: “Tim said, ‘you need me. I need to produce for you, I need to cheer you up, I need to be there for you.’ He actually just wanted to meet Castro and go along for the ride. But he prepared probably better than I did for the interview.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin laughed about her Marilyn Monroe-esque “Happy Birthday, Mr. Moderator” moment which celebrated Russert’s 50th.

The remembrances included clips of Russert grilling his guests, his pushing of potential presidential candidates to commit and his endless cheerleading for any team from Buffalo.

And as the discussion wound down, there were some tears. Brokaw got choked up when talking about Russert’s working-class background and boundless patriotism. “He would always say — if I can get through this — what a great country this is.”

The hour ended with a video tribute including Russert’s signature closing line taken from a previous Father’s Day broadcast: “If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Happy Father’s Day. Especially to big Russ up in buffalo. And Luke, I’m real proud to be your dad.”

A video clip, after the jump…