Tributes keep coming for Russert, a devout Catholic and hero of the old media

I’m a little surprised by the amount of attention given to the death of Tim Russert.

I was a big fan. He was a tremendously engaging political analyst and a great interviewer. But I think the fact that he was well-liked and respected among his colleagues in the old media can be seen in all the tributes.

tjndc5-5kg54uitk8z1bq5chh46_layout.jpg“Meet the Press” got about 3 million viewers a week, 4 million for a big-name guest. “Dancing With the Stars,” by arbitrary comparison, gets about 20 million viewers a week (yes, I know it’s prime time). But I think a lot of old media types see Russert as representing a day they long for, when a show like “Meet the Press” drove the political discussion in this country.

Having read and heard a bunch of tributes, it seems that Russert was best known for his love of politics, his father, his Catholic faith, Buffalo and the Buffalo Bills (not necessarily in that order).

No doubt, Russert was the celebrity MC at many Catholic events.

I found a summary of his speech to Boston College’s Class of 2004. The Boston Globe included this:

In his keynote speech, Russert described having a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1985, to ask him to appear on the “Today” show. Russert said he forgot his concerns about NBC’s ratings and instead thought about “the prospect of salvation.”

“You heard this tough, no-nonsense hard-hitting moderator of `Meet the Press’ begin by saying, `Bless me Father!’ ” Russert said.

Wolf Blitzer wrote about Russert meeting Pope Benedict XVI a few weeks ago in Washington (introducing them is the Rev. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University):

While we were waiting for the pope to arrive, he was like a little boy. He had his rosaries in his hand, ready for the pope to bless them. This was not the Tim Russert whom we all saw and admired as he grilled presidents, prime ministers, kings and mere politicians. When the pope finally approached him, he could barely utter a word. This was a special moment, and he knew it.

Catholic News Service wrote about Russert’s faith. It noted that Russert was to give the Catholic Common Ground Initiative’s Philip J. Murnion Lecture June 27 at The Catholic University in Washington.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ communications committee, told CNS: “Those of us who shared his Catholic faith and his deep love for it appreciate his sharing of the story of his own faith and his loyalty to the life of the Catholic Church in this country and the many charities to which he contributed his time and talent.”

A Buffalo News tribute ends like this:

And now, America faces the shocking prospect of that campaign continuing without Russert asking Barack Obama and John McCain tough questions.

“It’s going to be strange indeed to turn on the TV on Sundays and not hear his voice,” wrote Ezra Klein, a blogger for the American Prospect.

“Presumably, he’s up somewhere beyond the cloudline, hectoring God about His inconsistencies. ‘But Lord, in Exodus 6:12, you clearly said . . . ’ ”

A new top 10: abuse of religion on the presidential campaign trail (so far)

And the worst abuse of religion during the presidential campaign goes to…

Mike Huckabee.

tjndc5-5iw2dfqrbysd2dum1rg_layout.jpgFor this line: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards.”

He won’t get a gold statue.

The Interfaith Alliance today released its list of the 10 “worst abuses of religion during the campaign so far.”

Interfaith Alliance President the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy explains:

I have witnessed more abuses of religion in this primary season than in any election in recent memory. Candidates from both parties seem to be locked in a competition to be ‘holier than thou.’ Incidents like these demean the sanctity of religion by inferring that God has endorsed a certain candidate. Far be it for candidates to run for ‘Commander-in-Chief’ instead of ‘Pastor-in-Chief.’

Here’s the top 10:

10. Mitt Romney is asked if he believes “every word� of the Bible
(CNN/You Tube debate (11-28-07).
9. CNN’s Soledad O’Brien asks John Edwards to “name his greatest sin�
(CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).
8. James Dobson tells a reporter he does not think that Fred Thompson is a Christian
7. Barack Obama distributes a campaign flier describing himself as a “Committed Christian� (1-21-08).
6. Hillary Clinton said we need to “inject faith into policy�
(CNN/Sojourners town hall 6-26-07).
5. Mike Huckabee explains his rise in the polls by invoking the Biblical story of two fish and five loaves feeding a crowd of 5,000 people (11-28-07).
4. Tim Russert asks all the Democratic candidates to “name their favorite Bible verse� (MSNBC 9-26-07).
3. John McCain says the Constitution established the United States as a Christian nation and that he would prefer a Christian president (9-27-07).
2. Barack Obama asked a congregation to help him “become an instrument of God� and join him in creating “a Kingdom right here on Earth� (10-17-07).
1. Mike Huckabee tells a crowd: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standardsâ€? (1-14-08).

(Photo: AP/Elise Amendola)