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Falling over ourselves to pay tribute to Tim Russert

Tim Russert, in case you hadn’t noticed, is dead. The longest serving host of the NBC political chat show Meet the Press passed to his eternal reward recently, and the Excited States of America lived up (or down) to its somewhat sardonic anglophilic nickname. At his memorial service, Bruce Springsteen sang and eulogized via video hookup. This in tribute to Russert’s working-class roots in benighted Buffalo (a city rapidly overtaking Detroit as a symbol of rust belt decline). At the “request of the family,” McCain and Obama sat together at the funeral, implying that, even in death, only Tim could reconcile America’s political divide. And more or less anyone in the media who deemed his passing worth mentioning was slavering in their praise. Even the New Yorker’s cleverer-than-thou David Remnick heaped on the praise with just the right touch of superiority.

Tim Russert, who died Friday at the age of fifty-eight, was a gifted and cunning Sunday-morning interrogator who, while never quite disturbing his genuine persona or television’s conventions, used his outsized position on Meet the Press to rattle many more politicians than any of his on-air rivals did.

One exception was the Globe‘s Rick Salutin, who took a mighty dump on the festival of hagiography:

There was nostalgia. Someone called Tim Russert “an Irish cop on a corner in a neighbourhood called America.” In the impending era of Obama, it sounded like a longing for an all-white America that never was. The U.S. of Going My Way, with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald as Irish priests. The latter could have played Tim, too, and vice versa—before all the changes now being called for by blacks, Hispanics or this Obama guy, whatever he is.

That last crack pretty much defines the difference between a skeptic and a cynic. Still, if that’s what it takes to get over the general swoon, so be it. Tim Russert was famous for being on television, full stop. Even some efforts to put the whole schmear in context valiantly miss the point. Julia Keller, the culture critic for the Chicago Tribune, writes that:

I tend to believe that the Russert grief-o-thon emanated as much from the books he wrote as from the TV show he ran. Books such as Big Russ and Me (2004) and Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters From Daughters and Sons (2006) weren’t just vanity projects by a guy with high name recognition; they were heartfelt meditations on the importance of work and family in a world that sometimes forgets about the gratification of physical labor and the powerful bonds that link parents and children.

Nice try. Russert’s populist persona—Homo Americanus—was bound up with the boob tube as inextricably as The Fonz and Simon Cowell. Much like the mass media ululation at his death, Russert’s books are merely an outgrowth of the constellation of qualities that made him good TV.

Tim Russert Doesn’t Want You to Read This [Huffington Post]• Tim Russert [New Yorker]• The man they called Tim [Globe and Mail]• The tempest over Tim: Did the media overplay Russert’s death? [Chicago Tribune]

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