In the heat of a political season and in the thick of a changing broadcast landscape, NBC’s Tim Russert offered some perspective Monday on broadcast political coverage.
“When I first took over ‘Meet the Press’ I went to see David Brinkley, who was an icon on Sunday morning on ABC, and asked him how I could take everything I had learned during the course of a week and distill it into one hour,” Russert said. “He said, think of it this way: If Moses came down from the mountaintop, how would television news cover the event?”
Russert held up his hands. “Moses came down from the mountain top today with the Ten Commandments. Here is Sam Donaldson with the three most important.”
At Monday’s Television Luncheon, sponsored by Microsoft, NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the longest running television news show, was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Russert, the show’s managing editor and ninth moderator, accepted the award and gave the overflow crowd in the Las Vegas Hilton some perspective on the program’s ongoing purpose in today’s political scene.
“We are now in the midst of a presidential campaign,” Russert said. “It is a unique opportunity for those of us in television news to capture the moment, and to give the voters an open window on this democracy. Who are these candidates? What do they want to do for us and for the world? Now is when we find out who these men and women are so that after they are elected we are not surprised by some of the decisions they make. That is our challenge. I believe that is our destiny. I believe that is why we were born to be journalists, and particularly to have a program like ‘Meet the Press.’”
Then Russert, who took over the center chair of “Meet the Press” in December 1991, put this unique interview format of communication into perspective in an era of bloggers, cable and today’s world of ethereal advocacy media.
“It is important to our democracy that we have people who espouse their views in trying to persuade you of the correctness of them. But I also believe ever so deeply there is a role for a program like ‘Meet the Press,’ which says the host or moderator does not have views and inject himself into that discussion. It is by asking the very best question he can possibly prepare for, by knowing as much about the issue as the guest that he can elicit from that guest an answer — or non-answer — that the voting public can make their judgment and size that person up.”
That, said Russert, is the mission of “Meet the Press,” the most watched Sunday morning interview program in America and the most quoted news program in the world.
“I can assure you on behalf of all the men and women of NBC News that we are going to cover this campaign in an interesting and meaningful way so that you will be proud of us as fellow broadcasters and journalists, and the American people will truly have the opportunity to make an informed decision based on what they were able to learn by turning on ‘Meet the Press.’”
Russert heralded the show’s induction into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame by saying, “If you invite the host of ‘Meet the Press’ back in 40 years at our 100th anniversary, I hope we can proclaim that this program is the longest running program in the history of the world not only for longevity, but for quality.”
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