Passionate, skilled Russert leaves behind life lessons

What makes someone great at what they do? What propels them to the top of the pack?

  • Tuesday, June 17, 2008 6:14pm
  • Opinion

What makes someone great at what they do? What propels them to the top of the pack?

Tim Russert was one of America’s most trusted television journalists before being struck down by a heart attack last week at 58.

For 16 years he hosted the country’s most influential news program, “Meet The Press.” He also was NBC’s favorite political analyst, was the network’s D.C. bureau chief, and managed to find the time to host a second weekly interview program and write a pair of bestselling books. He also was loved by his family, friends, colleagues and competitors.

How did this son of a garbage man from Buffalo do it? Russert left behind four lessons that work for anyone from any background at any age in any field. You want to succeed in life? Here’s the road map he left behind. Recent graduates, pay close attention.

Russert had a passion for politics. That’s lesson No. 1: Choose something you love and try to make a living at it. Russert was in politics before he covered it, working for Sen. Pat Moynihan and Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York. He built a career on that passion. You can do the same.

Russert not only loved politics, he liked most people in it. This is key. If you don’t like the kind of people who gravitate toward advertising or corporate law, avoid working in advertising or corporate law.

Lesson No. 2. The scout motto never fails: Be Prepared. Everyone knew that when Tim Russert interviewed a senator, he had the senator’s record in front of him and plenty of conflicting sound bites ready to roll. It was the follow-ups, not the initial questions, that made him America’s best interviewer. People who are prepared ALWAYS get noticed.

Lesson No. 3. Respect your customers. Russert’s background strongly was Democratic. You would never know it when he interviewed Democrats on “Meet The Press.” He knew that his audience (the customers) respected thoroughness and evenhandedness. He respected their intelligence and their sense of fairness by reflecting it back on them. Doing that to your customers in any line of work is a must because people always notice when it happens … and when it doesn’t.

Lesson No. 4. Don’t Pretend. Russert’s dad, a World War II vet, worked two jobs without complaining for 30 years in Buffalo, and didn’t spend his time wringing his hands over whether Tim would one day get into Harvard. He instead focused on shaping his son’s character and emphasizing the importance of faith and fair play.

When “Big Russ” retired, his son noticed that he had over 200 unused days of sick leave.

“Why didn’t you take some of them?” Tim asked.

“Because I wasn’t sick,” his dad replied.

Russert went to Catholic schools where, he once said, he was not only taught to read and write but also how to tell right from wrong. He went on to John Carroll University and got his law degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Far from hiding his modest background, Russert was proud of it. He knew that moving ahead was about who you know from what you’ve done, not from who you know because you both matriculated at Yale.

It is tragic losing someone of his stature and reputation at the top of his game. But he made politics and journalism better professions. And he showed us, as his father showed him, how to do the right things the right way.

So long, Tim.

John Carlson hosts a daily radio program with KOMO 4’s Ken Schram each weekday at 9 AM on AM 570 KVI. He also broadcasts daily radio commentary on KOMO 1000 news. E-mail him at jcarlson@fisherradio.com or johncarlson@komoradio.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@auburn-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.auburn-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Thoughts and prayers just aren’t enough | Roegner

The violence must stop. And our elected officials have the ability to stop it.

Tahoma National Cemetery. 	FILE PHOTO
Why we celebrate Memorial Day

It’s the Memorial Day weekend – and you know what that means.… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
What’s happening to the soul of the GOP? | Roegner

What has happened to the Grand Old Party and its abdication of… Continue reading

Spring Chinook Salmon. Photo courtesy Michael Humling, US Fish & Wildlife Service
Editorial: Act now to save salmon, regardless of dams’ fate

With a plan to remove dams on the Snake River shelved, leaders must commit to broader-based actions.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Parents have decision to make on vaccinating kids

With one vaccine now approved for kids 12 and older, parents shouldn’t wait for a school requirement.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Grocery store workers and the hazard pay movement | Roegner

There isn’t much positive about what we have all been through the… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
How George Floyd’s death is changing history | Roegner

The death of George Floyd at the knee of Minneapolis Police Officer… Continue reading

Auburn resident Rick O’Neill. Courtesy photo
Auburn retiree embarks on bicycle adventure of a lifetime | Guest column

By Rick O’Neill, Special to the Auburn Reporter Bar Harbor, Maine, to… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Needle exchange program: Compassion vs. intolerance | Roegner

One of the more creative methods for treating drug users is the… Continue reading

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
Rethinking a natural gas ban in Washington state | Brunell

Sometimes being first isn’t good. Such is the case with legislation making… Continue reading

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Politics and the Sound Transit Board’s big decision for South King County | Roegner

Fortunately, the Sound Transit Board of Directors will make the final decision… Continue reading