Tim Russert died today. The great and the good pay homage:

Barack Obama: “I’ve known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He’s somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend. There wasn’t a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew.”

John McCain: “I am very saddened by Tim Russert’s sudden death. Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the preeminent political journalist of his generation.”

Bill and Hillary Clinton: “We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Tim Russert…Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim had a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him.”

George W. Bush: Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends, and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him. As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger: “Tim was an American icon in the world of political journalism who could relate to everybody. His insightful commentary and tough but fair interviews helped millions of Americans better understand our political system…But Tim was not only one of the top journalists of his generation; he was a close friend, a warm and generous person and a wonderful family man.”

Maria Shriver: “Tim Russert was one of my closest friends and he was like a brother to me. He was not only a professional confidant but a personal one. He was always the first person to call me whenever anything happened with my family. And he always called me just to check in and see how I was doing and to encourage me.”

Diane Sawyer: “No one could see Tim in a room and not smile. He brought so much joy and curiosity and sheer vitality to all our lives. As a journalist, he would set out like a great explorer. You couldn’t wait to see what he discovered every day in the new world. He was a defining American newsman.”

Katie Couric: “Tim was a big teddy bear of a guy, but he was also a pit bull of an interviewer. He always held people’s feet to the fire, often using their past words with great effect to reveal flip-flops or hypocrisy.”

Dan Rather: “Tim had become an important part of our political process. He will be especially missed in this historic presidential election year. Tim Russert was a beacon of quality journalism. At a time when quality journalism is in increasingly short supply, Tim Russert was a leader for what is best in American journalism. He was tough but fair, pulled no punches, played no favorites. As an interviewer, he had few, if any, peers.”

Walter Cronkite: “Tim Russert was a giant in our field—a standard-bearer of journalistic integrity and ethics. His masterful interviews and round-table discussions are legendary.”

A star-studded lineup, saying in perfect prepared-statement-speak how they remember him, or how they wish to be remembered remembering him. Tim Russert wasn’t alone, dying today, although the others passed without the benefit of A-list eulogies.

Tim Russert conducted 15-30 minute interviews with important Washington politicians. He wasn’t, in my opinion, a particularly good interviewer, or a particularly tough one. He had a trick, which was he would look for quotations from a persons’ past which he felt were inconsistent with a more recent quotation, and confront them with that. This wasn’t necessarily a good or a bad trick to pull in an interview – it depends how you pull it off, and Russert’s results varied. His approach was generally deferential to the more prestigious players – accommodating, helpful even. He frequently came off as uninformed and – apart from the gotcha quote – ill-prepared. He never struck me as being particularly concerned about the effects of Washington politics, of the work of the people he interviewed, outside of a very select cohort of politicians and pundits, and how people in Buffalo, NY would perceive them. His work product was closer to Ryan Seacrest’s than William Shirer’s. He wasn’t the worst journalist/pundit in the country – I doubt he’d crack the top 1,000, the competition being what it is – but he also didn’t serve the public particularly well. These are all my subjective opinions, same as when he was alive.

I think it’s weird when people mark the deaths of people who they only know through seeing them on TV, which is why I generally don’t. Obviously, it sucks a lot for someone when most people die, and it slightly sucks to hear that someone you didn’t actually know at all has died. R.I.P., all today’s dead strangers. I never met him, and I’m sure he was a very nice person to know, as many people are. As I didn’t know him as a person, but as many are marking the occasion, I’ll remember him instead as a public figure, and I’ll remember his work. It wasn’t worth much, and it won’t be missed. I’m sorry if that seems unkind to the dead, but it is my opinion, same as yesterday. The living deserve better, then and now.

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