COMMENTS: Russert the Interviewer

Tom Brokaw, former anchor of NBC Nightly News, pointed to Russert's Jesuit education and his training as a lawyer to describe his interviewing technique on Meet the Press. His initial questions were almost always based on the interviewee's own words or words written about them and answers would be clarified with follow-ups. Brokaw recalled that when Russert first unveiled his style, friends who were litigators asked: "Does he have a law degree? He could give one heckuva deposition. I would hate to face him on cross."

Brokaw judged that Russert "raised the whole level of Sunday morning" but then, being an NBC Newser, he may have been partial. CBS substitute anchor Harry Smith asked Bob Schieffer, Russert's longtime rival on CBS' Face the Nation: "He was an expert interviewer because he did it the right way. He did prodigious research. He knew every thing about his guests before they came on the program. He did not try to trip them up. He wanted to find out exactly what they meant and then he asked them questions about it to see if it would stand hard questioning. Face the Nation, I think, was a lot better because I had to compete against Tim Russert." ABC's Martha Raddatz checked in with George Stephanopoulos of his network's This Week: "By watching him and competing against him it made all of us better."

Harry Smith, who conducts plenty of political interviews on CBS' Early Show reflected: "Hacks or pretenders did not last long with Russert on a Sunday morning. He was always better prepared than the people he questioned…Russert really was a sentinel at the gates of our democracy. He would not be fooled, could not be tricked. We trusted him to be about our business and to be about our concerns."


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