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For Russert, a Host of Tributes From Near and Far

Tim Russert, Washington bureau chief for NBC News and moderator of the top political talk show "Meet the Press," died suddenly on Friday at the NBC studios in Washington. Russert was 58. He is survived by his son Luke and wife Maureen Orth.
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 15, 2008

An extraordinary outpouring of tributes to Tim Russert continued nonstop yesterday as ordinary people left flowers and notes at NBC's Washington bureau, the presidential candidates praised his fairness and his network planned a special edition of "Meet the Press" for this morning.

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The moderator's chair, filled by Russert since Dec. 8, 1991, will be left empty to honor the 58-year-old political analyst who died of a heart attack Friday.

"We hope to do him proud," Betsy Fischer, Russert's longtime executive producer, said yesterday. "What I really want to get across is what Tim did for 'Meet the Press' -- where he took the show and how much it meant to him." She said she was touched by the fact that former staffers have been showing up to help, including a producer who flew in from California.

Tom Brokaw, the network's former anchor, will lead a discussion with such friends as commentator Mike Barnicle, political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, PBS's Gwen Ifill and Maria Shriver, California's first lady.

More than 13,000 messages were sent to the network's Web site yesterday ( Russert.Condolences@nbcuni.com). Others posted their thoughts on Facebook pages.

A memorial service will be held in Washington this week, but no details have been released. Buffalo, Russert's beloved home town, plans a candlelight vigil in a park named for the man who became NBC's Washington bureau chief.

On a special edition of "Today," Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said yesterday that in an interview before he spoke at the party's 2004 convention, Russert "suddenly pulls out a quote from a Cleveland Plain Dealer article that I had completely forgotten about" and tripped him up. "And it showed me he had the best research on television, but we also talked football afterwards. . . . He was never mean-spirited about it. You know, he would hold you accountable, but you always had a sense that he was fair, that he wasn't trying to make himself more important in the process."

Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, who appeared on the show 52 times, said: "He was always fair. He was always tough. He always would send a little trepidation through me when I would see a quote thrown up on the screen, because he always did his homework."

Vice President Cheney said Russert "was never into 'gotcha' journalism. He'd ask you tough questions. He'd remind you of quotes you'd made previously in other settings or on earlier shows, so you never got away with anything going up vis-a-vis Tim, but the main thing was it wasn't just politics. It was substance."

Russert was a wealthy Washington pundit who touched a nerve among viewers, perhaps because he wrote a book about his father, "Big Russ," and talked about his blue-collar roots in Buffalo. That connection was highlighted by an impromptu shrine that took shape in front of NBC's Washington bureau on Nebraska Avenue NW.

Dozens of store-bought bouquets, candles, handwritten notes and a Buffalo Bills banner were piled near the studio entrance in tribute to a broadcaster who had become as familiar as family in many households.

"Dearest Tim, How can we have an election without you?" read one message, scrawled on the kind of whiteboard that Russert made famous with his on-the-fly election night analysis.


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