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In 2004, Meet-the-Press host Tim Russert published a memoir about his father titled, “Big Russ and Me.” Tim died of a heart attack four years later. A rebroadcast of Diane’s conversation with Tim about his long career in television news and life lessons learned from his father.
- Tim Russert NBC News Washington bureau chief, and moderator and managing editor of "Meet the Press."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Loyal viewers of "Meet The Press" know Tim Russert is a huge fan of the Buffalo Bills. What they may not know is how his uncle's skill at Pinnacle helped pay for part of his law school education and how growing up, he never dreamed he would one day host television's longest running program.
MS. DIANE REHMIn a new book, Tim Russert writes about his father's wisdom, why his connection to Buffalo remains so strong. The book is titled "Big Russ and Me." And Tim Russert joins me in the studio. Throughout the hour, we'll welcome your calls, questions, comments, 1-800-433-8850. If you're listening online around the country or around the world, join us by email to email@example.com. Well, it's a good time to see you, Tim Russert.
MR. TIM RUSSERTGreat to be here, Diane.
REHMDay before your son's high school graduation. And you're gonna give the commencement address.
RUSSERTIt is the toughest speech I've ever written. I’m sure it will be the hardest speech I'll ever deliver. It's a real passage. And today, we had a communion breakfast and the beginning of the farewell process, if you will. He's my only child and it's been an extraordinary 18 years together and I realize he has to move on and I'm going to miss him terribly. But it's only college and everybody tells me he'll be back.
REHMWhere is he going to go to college?
REHMFantastic. Before we talk about your new book, "Big Russ and Me," which, by the way, ends up number two on the New York Times bestseller list this weekend, congratulations for that, Tim.
RUSSERTThank you, thank you.
REHMLet me ask you about the Valerie Plame leak. We learned this week that the president consulted a lawyer about the matter and you have received a subpoena from the special prosecutor. You're going to fight that subpoena, I understand. Tell me about that.
RUSSERTYes. Neil Shapiro, the president of NBC News, has said that he believes it will have a stifling effect upon a journalist to do his job. We have said in our statements that NBC was not the recipient of the leak, but they are interested in talking to me about contacts I may have had with people at the White House. They've also subpoenaed Matt Cooper of TIME magazine. They've had contacts with reporters at the Washington Post and Newsday.
RUSSERTWe don't know how widespread the subpoena list is. It's kind of ironic because the one person, the one journalist who knows more than anyone is Robert Novac of the Chicago Sun Times, who wrote the story which identified very plain. So we will be filing papers and we will see what the courts decide.
REHMTell me whether you believe Robert Novac should have released Valerie Plame's name.
RUSSERTIt's a very difficult decision. I've had him on "Meet The Press" and he's talked about it. He said he did not realize that she was in a sensitive or covert position and that he was going to be in a position of compromising her future activities. It is something that, obviously, if we had been aware of it, if we had been the recipient of the leak, we would have long, difficult, editorial meetings to try to wrestle with that very difficult decision. It is clear that the reason the story was talked about so much was that people were trying to discredit Joe Wilson's trip to Africa in suggesting that his wife had somehow been involved in arranging it.
REHMWhich she was not.
RUSSERTRight. We have often, at NBC News, withheld stories for national security considerations. I note the New York Times acknowledged the other day they were aware of Ahmed Chalabi's allegedly giving information to the Iranian government and held that story for ten days or so. I don't have any problem with holding stories as long as we are convinced that the national security concerns are real. Sometimes we are told that they are real and then we learn two or three days later that it was more of a public relations or propaganda machine at work.
RUSSERTAnd we tell the full story and then why we withheld the story and why we're not reporting it.
REHMAnd, of course, yesterday, we had the news that CIA director George Tenet is going to resign. Do you think it was voluntary or do you think he was nudged out?
RUSSERTI've talked to people at the White House. I've talked to people very close to Director Tenet. They all insist that he could have stayed if he wanted to, that the president had confidence in him, but I think, Diane, it was confluence of events. One, there's going to be some very harsh comments about Director Tenet's tenure in reports coming from the Senate and House intelligence committees about the weapons of mass destruction issue. The Secretary of State Colin Powell, three weeks ago on "Meet The Press," said that he now believes he put forward misleading information before the United Nations.
REHMHe's not too happy about that.
RUSSERTHe is very unhappy. Colin Powell is very unhappy about that because he went to the CIA for several days and spent time being convinced that the material that he was going to present with his enormous credibility was, in fact, accurate. There's going to be reports from Congress about the September 11th situation, the independent national commission on September 11th will also be critical of some of the things the CIA did. George Tenet also has a son who will be entering his senior year of high school. And as he told the employees of the CIA yesterday, Mr. Tenet did, that he's been a terrific son and I'm going to now try to be a terrific father.
RUSSERTAs I've learned this past year, it is a year you want to be with your son as you go around and look at colleges and begin to -- him for a different path in life. If things were going great at the CIA, if they had found the weapons of mass destruction as predicted, if the CIA was credited for hard-headed work prior to September 11th and so forth, would Mr. Tenet be leaving? Probably not. But I think everything taken together, after seven long and difficult years, he's decided that it's time to move on.
REHMTim Russert, host of "Meet The Press," son of Big Russ, and that's the title of the book, "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son, Lessons of Life." If you'd like to join us, call us on 1-800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I know this book began to germinate for you back in 1998. What was going on?
RUSSERTI went back home to Buffalo to the New York State American Legion Convention to receive a journalism award and I brought my son Luke with me and my dad was there. And I spontaneously began to talk about my dad, someone who grew up during the depression, left school in the 10th grade to fight in World War II, involved in a terrible plane crash. His B24 Liberator burst into flames and he barely survived. Six months in the hospital. And then, he came back home and started a second mission and that was to raise and educate his four kids by working two full-time jobs as a sanitation man and a truck driver.
RUSSERTAnd he never complained. And I have learned so much by the quiet eloquence of his hard work, I wanted to write a book which affirmed his life. And after I wrote it and reread it, I realized I had written as much for my son as for my dad. So I wrote another chapter, an open letter to my son. And I tell you, Diane, as I've gone around the country, I'm just stunned how this has resonated. Everywhere I go, every city, people come to the bookstores and want to talk about their dads.
RUSSERTAnd they want it signed to Big Mike and Big Frank and Big Al and Big Fred, a lot of big guys out there. And as we lead to Father's Day of 2004, I have a real sense that there's a feeling in the country that maybe take a day off from Bush versus Kerry and a day off from the Iraq War and say, hey, dad, thanks for the sacrifice because it is a group of men and -- I write about my mom, and women, too, but I tried to stay with the theme of father and son because I have one child, a son. It's a group of people who just sacrificed everything.
RUSSERTI said to my dad, you know, dad, two jobs. Didn't you ever say to yourself, what am I doing this for? He said, some guys couldn't find one. But dad, six months in a hospital, you know, you nearly died. That had to be tough. It was tougher for the guys who died. Dad, didn't you ever want to go to school? I mean, finish high school. You kids. You're the first one in the family. You went to college. You went to law school. You're on your way. That's it. And he really believes that he's had the greatest life imaginable.
RUSSERTHis glass is two-thirds full. His favorite expression is what a country. And he says that when he sees his kid going to toe to toe with George Bush or John Kerry, when he eats a perfectly charbroiled hot dog. He's just amazing and I am just so happy, at 80 years old, he's here to enjoy it and celebrate the life of Big Russ because I could not do what I do without him.
REHMThe one sad note that I realized after going through this book is that your mother and father divorced after 30 years of marriage.
RUSSERTYeah, that was very difficult for us. As I write, you know, you wake up and you say, we're Russerts from Buffalo. We're Catholic. My mom was very young when they got married.
RUSSERTAnd a central force in my life. You know, my parish priest used to say that hand the rocks the cradle, rules the world. And when dad was off working his two jobs, she would be there tending to the home fires, if you will. We didn't have play dates. We all came home and scattered around the street and then played hard and came home and we sat around the kitchen table and did our homework. And mom's rule was you couldn't trade your pencil for a fork until your homework was finished. And that was a pretty big incentive.
RUSSERTI'll never completely understand what goes on in people's minds. We still, for example, tomorrow at the graduation, everybody's coming down from Buffalo, mom, dad, my three sisters, they're all going to be there. But it came to a point that they clearly had differences that they couldn't overcome and there we have it.
REHMDid either remarry?
RUSSERTBoth are now single. I mean, both living in different places. But it's, you know, it's cordial. It's civil. It's -- you always have a dream that you would want your parents to be together forever.
RUSSERTBut it was not to be.
REHMTim, what advice did your father give you before the interview with Vice President Chaney in the aftermath of 9/11?
RUSSERTIt was such a difficult period for me, 8:46 a.m. September 11th. I lost friends at the World Trade Center. The vice president and the president hadn't given any extensive interviews and we journeyed to Camp David and I was on my way up there and I said, dad, I'm going to talk to the vice president. He said, let him talk. He said, this is not a typical political interview where you're going to cross examine somebody. We want to know what happened that day on September 11th. What was going on in the White House?
RUSSERTWhat were the conversations like between the vice president and the president who was on Air Force One and going around the country. And Dick Chaney is someone who's not known for being particularly outspoken or colorful. And I took dad's advice and I said, Mr. Vice President, 8:46 a.m. September 11th, you're in your office, what happened? And he proceeded to talk about being picked up by his belt buckle, his feet off the floor, being run down a set of stairs, several sets, into a bunker in the White House, which none of us knew existed. And then, I said what was the most difficult decision you made?
RUSSERTHe said it was actually a recommendation. We were convinced that planes were headed to the White House and to the Capitol and I recommended to the president that we shoot down American civilian aircraft. And the president gave that order. I couldn't believe it. I was sitting there at Camp David listening to the vice president of the United States saying the commander in chief had ordered American civilian aircraft be taken down. I later learned that when the plane went down in Pennsylvania, because of the heroism of the flight attendants and the rugby players on board, many people at the White House thought it had been shot down.
REHMExactly. And many people throughout the country believed it had been shot down. You are convinced it was not shot down.
RUSSERTI am convinced that it crashed because of the -- one of the flight attendants threw boiling hot water into the terrorist's face and the young rugby players from California pounced on him and got control of the airplane and crashed it into the ground.
REHMTim Russert, his story of his life with his father, the lessons he's learned is called "Big Russ and Me." It's number two on the New York Times bestseller list the weekend. We'll be right back.
REHMHere's our first email from Chas, your old buddy, who says, hey, Tim, how come I don't see you at the Anchor Bar anymore? What's your record for eating wings?
RUSSERTFor our audience who are not familiar with the Anchor Bar, it's Frank and Teressa's Anchor Bar. It's where chicken wings all began. And what happened was that their children would come home from college late at night, 2:00, 3:00 in the morning, very hungry, and they didn't want to give them the main entrees. So they took the chicken parts that were remaining and cooked them up and then put hot sauce on them and the kids loved them. And people said, they should be on the menu. My favorite movie of all time is "Cool Hand Luke," where Cool Hand Luke is challenged about whether he can eat 50 eggs.
RUSSERTAnd one night, in college, I said, with my partner, John Caulfield of Buffalo, he said, my guy can eat 50 wings. So I ate 50 wings and I called it a night, believe me. I think I'm still clucking.
REHMWoo. How'd you get to college?
RUSSERTIt's an interesting story. There was a nun named Sister Mary Lucille who changed my life. In seventh grade she summoned me to the front of the room and said, this is your last chance. We need a vehicle to channel your excessive energy.
REHMExcessive energy is a sort of a way of talking about misbehavior.
RUSSERTI was mischievous, very. I enjoyed paperclips, rubber bands, spitballs, snowballs, anything that moved toward somebody, I was responsible for throwing. But she started the paper, Diane, and made me the editor, and it changed my life. I fell in love with writing, with journalism. And that prepared me and allowed me to apply to Canisius Jesuit High School, which was a place far away from South Buffalo. And I was admitted there. The first day I walked in, Father Duchnowski (sp?) said, take out a piece of paper, describe what you saw coming into this building today.
RUSSERTAnd I said, what happened to the true/false? What happened to the multiple choice? You're making me think. And then Father Stern, the prefect of discipline, put me against the lockers for a perceived indiscretion. And I said, Father, don't you have any mercy? He said, mercy's for God. I deliver justice, accountability, reliability. I went home. I told my dad this terrible priest had punished me. And Dad said, you're grounded two weeks. You know, there's no appeal. This is the neighborhood watch. Parents and teachers in a conspiracy...
RUSSERT...to keep little Timmy on the straight and narrow. But when you graduate from Canisius High School, you are in a pretty good shape, you know, with a Jesuit education. I applied to John Carroll University, a Jesuit college, and got a scholarship. I graduated from there and took a year off and taught school. I didn't have any money. I wanted to go law school. And then I met a fellow named Frank Sinyevitz (sp?) or Frankie son-of-a-vitch as we called him, the deputy controller of Buffalo.
REHMThat was with a V, folks.
RUSSERTYeah, yeah, very careful, V, son-of-a-vitch. And he was a great Pinochle player. And he called me one night from Frank's Bar, his sister Laurie ran it. He said, get over here right away. And he gave me a paper bag with $2,000 in cash.
RUSSERTHe had won it in a Pinochle game. And I drove home as fast as I could, got on my bed, counted it, $2,000, put it in a bag, put it in the refrigerator, giving new meaning to cold cash. But it paid my way through first year of law school.
RUSSERTThen, going in the second year that I was broke, some friends of mine from John Carroll, who I'd worked with as a volunteer getting concerts when I was a student said, could you use some of your contacts to help book a big concert at college. And we know you're no longer here and you're trying to earn money for law school, we'll pay you as a promoter. Well, I listened on the radio to a guy named Bruce Springsteen, this young kid from New Jersey, signed him for $2,500 in 1974. He then released a second album, shot to the charts, and the place sold out in about two hours. I made enough money for the second year of my law school.
RUSSERTFast-forward, I meet a young lady named Maureen Orth, my wife who was on your program talking about her book recently. And she had done the cover story on Bruce Springsteen for Newsweek Magazine. We were in a restaurant and she said, Bruce, this is my husband. I told him the story about going to law school on a Pinochle game and a Bruce Springsteen concert. And he says, that sounds like one of my songs. Which is exactly right.
RUSSERTI wouldn't be here without it. It's just a great feeling.
REHMWhat a story. And after law school...
REHM...you went to work.
RUSSERTYes. In 1976, I took the bar exam and -- in July. And you don't find out whether you pass until December. Thank God I did. But in that interim, I signed on as a volunteer driver for a fellow named Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was running for the Senate in New York State. It was the best tutorial I ever had in my life, the smartest man I ever met. We would drive to Western New York. He's say, now we're in Batavia. This is where the phrase, land office business began, the Holland Land Office. We're now in Elmira. Samuel Clemons, Mark Twain, was the editor of the newspaper. I couldn't believe it. Every day there would be a history lesson, a geography lesson.
REHMAnd you're driving for him.
RUSSERTAnd I'm driving, listening to it all. He would ask me about whether social spending went up or down during the Nixon administration. What were the contents of the Nixon health care plan as opposed to the Johnson health care plan? Just testing my mind day after day after day.
REHMBut how are you earning money at this point, as a volunteer driver?
RUSSERTI was working part time for a subcommittee on railroads, writing reports, not making much. I was also -- I spent four summers lifting garbage, like my dad. I drove taxi. I made pizzas. I did everything I could to make money. And many of my friends went backpacking around Europe, and I never had that pleasure. But as my dad said, you'll appreciate this more because you've earned it.
REHMSounds like my own husband. Did you really call your dad every Monday to find out how you had done the day before?
RUSSERTIt's like clockwork. I'd call him during the week and then we'd talk about the Buffalo Bills and a whole lot of other things. But on Mondays, it's my favorite conversation.
RUSSERTBecause he'll say, I like that guy or I don't like that guy, or I disagree with him but I think he's honest. Or the worst that Dad can say is, he's a phony.
RUSSERTAnd if Dad called someone a phony, it's over. He'll never, you know, they'll never get his vote. He then concludes the conversation by saying, I still can't believe they pay you all this money to B.S. on the air. He keeps -- Big Russ keeps me grounded, believe me.
REHMHow did Big Russ become Big Russ?
RUSSERTWell, Big Russ used to be Big Tim and I was Little Tim. And then I hit 6'2" and we realized that when people would call and say, is Tim there? And they'd say Big Tim or Little Tim?
RUSSERTAnd it got very confusing. So I dubbed him Big Russ. And I just became plain old Tim. At that speech in '98 where I got the American Legion Journalism Award, when I called him up, I said, this is the real Tim Russert, because that's my dad. He's Timothy Joseph, I'm Timothy John. What's ironic, Diane, is a couple of months ago I heard my son on the phone saying, oh, man, I don't know. When the Big Guy hears about this, I'm going to be in trouble.
RUSSERTSo I'm the Big Guy now. So we have Big Russ and Big Guy. So we're doing the best we can.
REHMBefore we open the phones, do you want to read that letter that you've written to your son?
RUSSERTYeah, it's particularly timely, as he graduates tomorrow. So I'll try. "Dear Luke, I wrote this book for your grandpa. As I finish it, I realize how much it is also for you. Imagine, when Grandpa was just about your age, he left high school to help win World War II. When the war was over, he came home and took on another mission -- raising a family and educating his kids. As you know, for most of his life, he worked two jobs and never complained. I have never seen him bitter of cynical about anything or anyone. To this day, Grandpa believes his glass is two-thirds full, or as he puts it, I'm truly blessed. And so are you. In the fall, you'll leave for college. You'll never have to struggle through loans or card games to pay your tuition. Your opportunities are unlimited. And with that comes a higher responsibility.
RUSSERTAs your namesake, St. Luke, tells us, to whom much is given, much is expected. Remember our Thanksgiving dinner a few years back when, because of a special Pentagon program that gave returning veterans academic credit for their military service, we presented Grandpa with his high school diploma, South Park High School Class of 1942. I never saw him happier. He finally had it all -- an honorable discharge and a high school diploma. Whenever you think your studies are tough, think about Grandpa, the example he set and the lessons he taught. Work, respect, discipline are as important for you as they have been for me.
RUSSERTWhen I was around your age, I went off to the Woodstock Festival with some friends and didn't call home for five days. Mom and Dad were worried and I didn't fully understand their pain or Dad's anger until the first time you went away with your friends and didn't check in the moment you arrived. So, please, call home. I'll even settle for an email. Luke, man, along the way you'll hit some hurdles and experiences -- experience some setbacks. I will always be there for you as Grandpa was for me. But remember, while you are always, always loved, you are never, never entitled. As Grandpa likes to say, the world doesn't owe you a favor.
RUSSERTYou do, however, owe this world something -- to live a good and descent and meaningful life would be the ultimate affirmation of Grandpa's lessons and values. The wisest commencement speech I ever heard was all of 15 words. The best exercise of the human heart is reaching down and picking someone else up. Off you go. I am so very proud to be your father. Study hard. Have fun. Keep your honor. Pursue every one of your dreams. They really are reachable. As Big Russ would say, what a country. Love, Dad."
REHMWhat did your son say, after reading that for the first time?
RUSSERTHe actually came up to my room and gave me a big hug...
RUSSERT...and said, thank you. And my dad also has said thank you. He -- my dad was very nervous. He's very private. And he kept saying, what's in this book? What's in this book? I didn't want to show it to him until it was over. You know, he used to say, what we say at the table stays at the table. I said, Dad, we never said anything at the table but pass the potatoes, please. Dad, it's not like there's any great...
REHMYou all didn't talk very much at the table.
RUSSERTJust kept eating, right.
RUSSERTBut you'll love this. He was being interviewed about the book. And there's a chapter called "Food," and the subtitle is "You Gotta Eat." Dad will call you at 7:00 in the morning and say, happy birthday. What are you having for dinner? Dad, I haven't had breakfast yet.
RUSSERTYou know, you gotta eat. I said, I know I gotta eat. So Stone Phillips of NBC said, Big Russ, where did the phrase, you gotta eat, come from? He said, Stone, it's actually, the kid got it wrong. And my heart sank. You know, here I am, I'm making a mistake in my first book. He said, the real expression I learned from Dr. Matty Burke (sp?) . It goes like this, you gotta eat if you're gonna drink. So in the paperback, I'm going to correct it for Big Russ.
REHMThat's good. You also have vivid memories of Father Baker's.
RUSSERTOh, Father Baker's Orphanage. And it's Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Buffalo. It's in Lackawanna, N.Y. actually. It's a real landmark. But everyone in South Buffalo was threatened, in that if their behavior continued in a downward way, they would be taken to Father Baker's. And one time my father came home -- and he would be tired. He'd work one job, he'd take a 20-minute nap and go back to a second job. And he got all tangled up in the back hall on hula hoops and pogo sticks and slinkies and that was it. He fell and almost hurt himself.
RUSSERTHe said, that's it. You're in the car. And he dragged me out to the station wagon, put me in the back, drove down Woodside Avenue, took a left on South Park, and we're eight blocks from Father Baker's. I gave it up. Dad, I promise you, I will never. I'll do anything. I will be the best son. I'll wash the dishes. I'll cut the grass. I'll shovel the snow. Please, not Father Baker's. And he pulled me over. And I'm sobbing uncontrollably. He said, come here. You know, and he was not a demonstrative guy. But he said, listen, you know, I'm never going to take you to Father Baker's, but I wanted to teach you a lesson.
RUSSERTThis is what could happen if you don't appreciate your family and take responsibility, you could live a life so much different. And I wanted you to fully understand that. Diane, I have gotten hundreds of emails from kids who grew up in South Buffalo saying, you had the Father Baker threat too? Good, God. You know, P.S., did anyone really get taken there?
RUSSERTI don't think so.
REHMJust a wonderful question. And did you know Father Baker yourself?
RUSSERTI never met him. But he was a remarkable man. He is being considered for sainthood in the Catholic Church. He gave so many meals and housing to -- you know, he really lived the gospel of Christ. And anyone who gets to Lackawanna, N.Y., it is a place to visit.
REHMAt 25 before the hour, you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One further question and then we'll open the phones. One Roman Catholic cleric has said that John Kerry, because he is pro-choice, should not be given Holy Communion. What's your reaction to that?
RUSSERTYou know, it's so interesting to me. When I was 10 years old, growing up in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood, we were so enthusiastic about the possibility of John Kennedy becoming president. We thought he was just like us. We didn't know he was rich. And the biggest concern that was expressed was that John Kennedy was too Catholic. And here we are in 2004, it's John Kerry's not Catholic enough.
RUSSERTAs a Catholic layman, I've been very outspoken about the abuse in the church and have -- at every commencement address I have been given the honor of presenting -- at Notre Dame, at Boston College, wherever -- I have said that the hierarchy of the church has to take steps to ensure that anyone who abused or enabled an abuse of our children must be dealt with and there must be reconciliation with the victims. As to the next big issue confronting the church, whether or not Catholic politicians who may have their own personal views but vote differently in the public forum, I have to cover that issue. And I have really not offered any comments or judgments.
RUSSERTI think John Kerry's faith is important to him. How he reconciles his Catholicism with his public votes and how he deals with this whole interaction with the church is going to be, I think, a significant issue in the campaign. Here, in Washington, Cardinal McCarrick has been charged with the task of coming up with a policy, how are Catholic politicians treated? Traditionally, Diane, it has been that they are allowed to have their own personal faiths -- faith and beliefs. And they will then say, there are different issues that, in terms of the public good or in terms of the diversity of opinion if you will, they may cast a vote that they personally disagree with, but it's in the interest of the public at large.
RUSSERTI don't know how it's going to work out. I think some bishops will go their own way and refuse to offer Senator Kerry communion. And I see President Bush greeting the Pope in Rome. I saw statistics the other day that people who go to religious services more frequently tend to vote Republican. I think faith is a central issue in American life. And I think it'll be a big issue in this campaign.
REHMDo you believe that the church has the right to say to a politician -- someone running for the presidency -- unless you adhere to your Roman Catholic teaching, you will be outside the body of Christ?
RUSSERTSome prelates obviously believe they have that right. How they get into the heart and mind and conscience of these public officials -- I know the Bishop of Baltimore has said that he does not believe that that should occur. I think it's a very risky endeavor for many people in the church to be involved in this. Judge -- process of judgment.
RUSSERTThere's a suggestion that people are cafeteria Catholics. But you really don't know what's in someone's heart and mind. I think that Cardinal Bernardin, the late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago wrote a brilliant essay called "The Seamless Web of Life." And he talked about the church's position on abortion. But he also talked about the church's position on the death penalty. And he also talked about the gospel of Christ, helping people who need help, in early stages of life and in the latter stages of life. And there is this seamless web.
RUSSERTAnd so I think the clergy of the church is going to have to confront the issue that if they're going to refuse communion for people who don't vote, in their minds, correctly on abortion rights, should the same standard be also applied for the death penalty or applied also for aid to the poor, who are -- people who are trying to fulfill and live out the gospel of Christ? I think that's a pretty difficult standard to meet. But I would commend anyone who has an interest in "The Seamless Web of Life" to find Cardinal Bernardin's essay. Because it's very reflective and very inspiring.
REHMTim Russert, he's NBC News Washington bureau chief, moderator, and managing editor of "Meet the Press." He's also host of "The Tim Russert Show" on CNBC. His new book, now number two on The New York Times Bestseller List, is called "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son: Lessons of Life."
REHMHere's an email from Tim Russert from Susan, who says that's a wonderful story and letter to your son, but who gave the best commencement speech that Tim Russert ever heard. Was it Moynihan?
RUSSERTNo, it was a businessman down in Texas, and he walked up to the podium and uttered those 15 words and sat down. And I read about it in a newspaper and clipped it and saved it.
REHMInteresting. And that's exactly what the graduates want is something short. Keep that in mind, Tim Russert, as you go before your son's class tomorrow. I have great respect for Mr. Russert, this is from Jason, so I'd like to hear you speak about your decision to be a guest on Sean Hannity's show. Shows like Hannity's do so much harm. I was sad to see you add to its perceived credibility by your participation. What do you think about that?
RUSSERTWell when I worked for NBC News, I'm not allowed to appear on any other program except NBC, CNBC, MSNBC. The exception they make is when...
RUSSERTWe have a book. And so we're allowed to go out, as Tom Brokaw did with "The Greatest Generation," and I'm going out now. And I have went on Comedy Central with Jon Stewart, Larry King, Sean Hannity, Hannity and Colmes. Interesting enough, Sean Hannity said that this book was his autobiography, that he grew up in a very similar household with similar values.
RUSSERTI don't make judgments about people's political views. That's not what I do on "Meet the Press," that's not what I do when I'm the guest on their particular program. I had an opportunity to talk about the issues of the day and about my book, and I feel very comfortable with that.
REHMHere's an email from Edward, who said how would today's media apparatus have covered the events of World War II? Are there lessons present-day journalism can still take away from how it played its role 60 years ago, or has real-time reporting brought on by technology changed the rules completely?
RUSSERTThat's a great question. Ironically this very weekend, MSNBC is trying to re-create the coverage of World War II in real time, using our reporters as if they were covering World War II. So I'm very curious how that turns out. You know, we had underwent this interesting discussion with the Pentagon about embedded reporters, whether or not journalists could be trusted to go into Iraq with military units.
RUSSERTWe learned a lot about the military, and they learned a lot about us, and I think a mutual respect developed. I lost one of my best friends in life, David Bloom, in Iraq. I think that we understand that we should never and can never report anything that would put our troops at risk, but we can provide a valuable public service to the American people, and that is telling the truth as to what's going on without jeopardizing our troops.
RUSSERTYou can't just send an army to war. You've got to bring a country to war. And I've been in a lot of countries in the world where you get nothing but good news from the front lines of a battle, and that's a government you don't want to be part of. And so we have to tell sometimes the harsh and bitter and painful truth without jeopardizing security, and I think we've done a pretty good job.
REHMSo where does that leave you with the nation of embedded reporters?
RUSSERTI think it worked, and I think we should keep on doing it and try it again.
REHMWhy shouldn't reporters be allowed to go where they wish to go without endangering U.S. troops?
RUSSERTWell that's the big question, can they.
RUSSERTWe know for example just last week a group of NBC reporters ventured off to try to talk to some of the resistance leaders in Iraq near Fallujah and got snatched, and it took us a week of prolonged negotiations to try to get them free, and thank God they did. You can actually do a lot more freelancing if you want, but what we found is that it's extremely dangerous, and if you're there under the protection of the United States military, as long as you can report the truth, and the only ground rule was just don't violate our security.
RUSSERTI remember David Bloom saying, you know, here we are, we're heading towards Baghdad, and his hair is blowing in the wind, and David of Arabia reporting his stories, and one of the anchors said, David, exactly where are you. He said, are you crazy? I'm not going to tell you because Baghdad Bob was watching, you know, and who knows.
RUSSERTIt's a fine line, but I think that Ernie Pyle and Edward R. Murrow and others who were involved in World War II understood that you -- you're an American, but you're also a journalist, you report it right, you report it straight, but you don't jeopardize the security of your fellow countrymen.
REHMLet's go to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Good morning, Thomas, you're on the air.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
THOMASYes, it's an honor to be able to call in this morning and to speak to you, Diane, and to Tim Russert. I'm calling Mr. Russert to ask if he realizes that the way that your program on NBC is produced and framed and particularly the type of interview questions that you ask has a great influence on public opinion in this country and the fact that during the Bush administration, many, if not most, of your programs have led off with Bush administration officials coming on to give programmed right-wing messages has had an impact on public opinion in this country.
THOMASAnd I'm also calling to ask why you don't ask tougher follow-up questions of these Bush administration officials.
RUSSERTIt's fascinating to me getting reaction to the interviews on "Meet the Press." People really do see things through their own ideological prisms. I would dare say the caller is a Democrat, and he has every right to be. And I get similar calls from Republicans who will say why don't you, you know, strangle the Democrats, and how could you not ask tougher questions.
RUSSERTI can go back as recently as last week, the lead guest was Nancy Pelosi, the ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. I had a full hour with John Kerry. And I hope the view had a chance -- the caller had a chance to see those shows. I went back and re-read every transcript leading up to the war of Iraq. Five days before the war, Vice President Cheney came on "Meet the Press" and said we will be greeted as liberators. And I said follow-up, Mr. Vice President, what if you are wrong?
RUSSERTWhat if there's a long, protracted, bloody resistance? He said that will not happen. I don't know what else I can do. I had Donald Rumsfeld on and said the Army chief of staff Gene Shinseki said we're going to need 200,000 troops for the occupation. He said he's wildly off the mark. I asked Condoleezza Rice about the 16 words about uranium from Africa, and she said, well, that was buried somewhere in the bowels of the administration, and it turns out later that she in fact had been aware of it.
RUSSERTAnd so if the viewer goes back and objectively looks at what was said and what was asked and what the responses were, I think he'll understand that from his political perspective, you can never be tough enough on the Bush administration. From others you can never be tough enough on John Kerry.
REHMLet's go to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Mickey, thanks for joining us.
MICKEYThank you for taking my call.
MICKEYI appreciate you both.
MICKEYI had a question about polling. We talk a lot about Iraq and about right to life. I wonder about the majority of Americans who voted against George Bush before and if polls of these days don't give us misleading facts because we don't break it down by state. We know Bush's approval rating is low, but do we ever get a chance to get an Electoral College vote to see who might win the next election?
RUSSERTThat's a great question. I think we have an overreliance on the so-called national polls. We have broken them down to the battleground states. I know the caller will be interested in the fact that in our 50 great states in this nation, 32 have made up their mind. We know how they're going to vote in the November election, in all likelihood. There are 18 battleground states, and that's what we're focusing a lot of our research and efforts on.
RUSSERTYou know, the other interesting point is that Al Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 in 2000. Matthew Dowd, President Bush's chief strategist, wrote a memo two years ago, which advised the president that if women, blacks and Hispanics voted in the same numbers proportionally in 2004 as they did in 2000 that Bush would lose the popular vote by three million because of changing demographics, more women, more blacks, more Hispanics voting.
RUSSERTAnd we also have to be cognizant of that. You know, election night 2000, when the projections were wrong, and the computers went berserk, I pulled out my little pad and grease board and tried to work out the Electoral College for the country, and I plan to bring that board back out because the caller is exactly right. It's the 270 electoral votes that elect the next president.
REHMYou're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Tim, there's still people who believe that Al Gore himself made an enormous mistake by not asking for a recount of the whole state of Florida immediately. What's your view?
RUSSERTI am still stunned by that decision. I remember having Warren Christopher, who was representing Vice President Gore, Jim Baker, who was representing the Bush campaign, and asking that exact question. Gentlemen, why don't we have a full statewide recount, just put it on the table? Just go through every polling place, every county and lay it all out there.
RUSSERTThe Gore strategy was to find the candidates that were most favorable to the Democratic candidate, cherry pick if you will. The Bush campaign was resistant initially because they thought they had the votes to win, and let's go forward. Only belatedly was there recognition, you know, let's just have this statewide recount, which the Florida Supreme Court finally ruled upon, and they ran out of time.
RUSSERTThe Supreme Court of the United States said you don't have enough time.
RUSSERTIn terms of the electors. You know, I -- to this day I don't understand why that didn't happen and why the Gore campaign was not insistent on it. I don't understand why the Gore campaign was not more outspoken about the state of the economy, about the eight years of Clinton-Gore. I understand they were trying to keep some separation and distance from Bill Clinton, but there will be a lot of second-guessing about that campaign for a long time to come.
RUSSERTThe most extraordinary thing for me, though, is when the state supreme court said drop your pencils and pens, and the U.S. Supreme Court said drop your pencils and pens, Democrats and Republicans, no matter how overjoyed or aggravated, they obey the court. And that's who we are in the country. The Democrats have pledged 2004 is the year to get even, and it's going to be an extraordinary race over the next six months.
REHMAre you worried about voting machine accuracy?
RUSSERTYes, always am. You know, there were more discarded ballots, invalid ballots, in Illinois than there were in Florida. It's a real problem. And I worry about those scanning machines. What if they're -- they break down? How do you find corrections there? What we found out in 2000 is that the old cliché, every vote counts, boy is that true.
REHMTim Russert, how will you, your son, your father, spend Father's Day?
RUSSERTIt's going to be great. I'm going to finish doing "Meet the Press," and then I'm going to fly home and see big Russ and hopefully Luke will be with me. He said that he promised he would be. And then what we do is we fire up the grill with hot dogs.
REHMI love it. Tim Russert, thanks for being here. Congratulations on this book. It's called "Big Russ and Me: Father and Son Lessons of Life." And happy Father's Day to you.
RUSSERTI thank you so much, Diane.
REHMIt was my pleasure. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
REHMThe interview you just heard with Tim Russert was originally broadcast on June 4, 2004. I hope you've enjoyed hearing one of our farewell favorites from "The Diane Rehm Show." Thanks for listening.
REHMSo now comes the time to say goodbye. Having been in daily touch with you pretty much for the last 37 years and having it come to an end is difficult for me. Physically I know I'm ready. Emotionally I only think I'm ready because I know it's going to hard adjustment, changing habits, shifting thoughts from a daily deadline, missing being with wonderful colleagues, but there comes an end to all things. Having this position here at the microphone has been the most gratifying and fulfilling activity I could ever have dreamed of.
REHMI must say, though, I've been saddened by the collapse in kind and courteous discourse we've all witnessed during these last few years and especially during this last election. But you have remained a fabulous audience, always adding to our conversations with your calls and emails and more recently with your tweets and Facebook postings. You are kind, you are thoughtful, you are courteous. You exemplify civil conversation, and I've been proud to be your host.
REHMI owe so much to the many people who have made these years so rich for me but most especially to my producers, who are here with me and who will go on to do new things, Denise Couture and Danielle Knight, both of whom will go on to work on the new program, "1A with Joshua Johnson," Alex Botti, who moves to WYNC in New York to work for "The Takeaway," Lisa Dunn, who begins work on a special project here at WAMU on gun violence, Erica Hendry, who moves to WETA to work on "The PBS News Hour" and Alison Brody, who is currently considering her option, and finally Sandra Baker, who has been with me for 24 years, and Becca Kaufman, both of whom will stay on to work with me on my new weekly podcast we're calling "On My Mind." The podcast will be on a range of subjects, and I hope you'll find your way to them.
REHMSo now on to new things. Really it's not goodbye, it's just farewell. I'll continue here at WAMU. I'll be listening to the radio right along with you. For now I send all of you my love and my prayerful hope for a peaceful new year.
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