Return to Transcripts main page

Campbell Brown

Tim Russert Dead at Age 58

Aired June 13, 2008 - 20:00   ET


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.
This is an incredibly sad night for so many of us in journalism, in television, and in politics. We have lost someone who dominated this field professionally and on a personal level was a close friend to many of us.

Tim Russert gave me my first job in network television. He made me White House correspondent for NBC News. He was a valuable mentor and a wonderful, loyal friend. So, if I am not able to maintain my normal TV demeanor tonight, there are many reasons why.

Tim Russert, the longtime moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," collapsed while working today at NBC's Washington bureau. They rushed him to a hospital, where he died. Just a little bit ago, NBC announced it was a sudden heart attack. He was 58 years old.

Tonight, people are leaving flowers and Tim Russert's signature white boards outside the NBC Washington bureau. We're devoting tonight's ELECTION CENTER to Tim Russert, his impact and his legacy.

And here is our Tom Foreman.



ANNOUNCER: The is "Meet the Press With Tim Russert."


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tim Russert took on political reporting with Irish tenacity and zeal. And, along the way, he changed politics itself. Each Sunday morning, newsmakers lined up to join him on the longest running TV show ever, a program that he took over in 1991, "Meet the Press."


TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Up first, with us for an exclusive Sunday morning interview...


FOREMAN: Born in Buffalo in 1950, Russert was steeped in old- fashioned Irish Catholic beliefs about hard work, friends and family. He went to law school and then straight to the front lines of politics, working with legendary politicians Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Mario Cuomo.

That's when Bill Schneider met him.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He wasn't a grim ideological warrior. He didn't fight for causes. He believed in basic human decency and believed that politics was there to serve people's interests. But he made it his business to know what the interest was of everybody around the table. And he was brilliant at it.

FOREMAN: In 1984, he was hired by NBC, in just a few years becoming the Washington bureau chief. He's been a force in every phase of that network's political coverage ever since.

Wolf Blitzer:

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He could come across and ask a very tough question in a very polite, honest, almost amicable way. And it would disarm a lot of the politicians who came on the show. And they wouldn't realize that, whoa, you know, he's clobbering them.

FOREMAN: His incisive, meticulously researched interviews set the standard for political reporting. Virtually every big newsmaker of the past 20 years at some point sat with Tim Russert.

Along the way, Russert opened doors for many other journalists. He gave Joe Johns his first network job ever.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The thing Tim did so well and a lot of us always tried to emulate was the sort of prosecutorial interview without a sharp edge. So, here was Tim on "Meet the Press" asking very tough questions, but not making himself the focus of the questions.

FOREMAN: In this town, where contacts are everything, Russert seemed to know everyone. And he was an innovator. With a marker and a white board, he reduced the complexities of an election to something everyone could understand. Red states, blue states, he came up with that idea as a way of measuring America, according to "The Washington Post."

And his influence went beyond politics to groundbreaking coverage of the world's religious, economic and social issues.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He was one of the journalists who managed to have a very popular show that also dug deeply into the issues and really illuminated not only the issues themselves, but often pierced the balloons of some of the people who were appearing on the shows who came in with a certain amount of arrogance or a view that they could just sort of put one over on the American people.

FOREMAN: His awards are too numerous to mention. "TIME" magazine called him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. And, yet, spending time with his family and helping his community were among his deepest passions.

Married for 25 years to Maureen Orth, who writes for "Vanity Fair," he talked with endless pride of his son, Luke, and his father, Big Russ, immortalized in two books.

And, of course, there was sports.

BLITZER: He loved the Buffalo Bills. That was his real passion. And how many times did he end his show with "Go, Bills"?

FOREMAN: Tim Russert was a big man, not only in size -- he was well over 6 feet tall -- but also in his presence, in his passions, his determination to get things right, as a journalist, a citizen, a friend, a father, and son.


BROWN: Throughout this long, sad afternoon, we have been hearing from Tim Russert's friends and politics, as well as television news.

CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer is the host of "Face the Nation" on Sunday mornings. He was Tim's competitor, but also his very good friend. And tonight, he is in Paris, where I just spoke to him.


BROWN: Bob, Tim Russert was your direct competitor, but he was also a close friend of yours. Talk to us about how that friendship developed.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Well, it was a funny kind of thing.

We had just sort of known each other. I started doing "Face the Nation" in 1991. And a few months after that, Tim began as moderator of "Meet the Press." And for some reason, as the years went by, we just became close friends.

We went head to head. He was the toughest competitor I have ever gone up against. And we did it every Sunday. But, somehow or another, I think we just sort of developed a respect. Tim loved the news. And I really felt like I had done something when I slipped one past him.

I would also say that he was always delighted when he scooped me. But we just had that kind of relationship. We sort of understood what both of our jobs were.

And I have to tell you, Campbell, I just can't really believe yet that he's gone. I mean, he was such a big presence. He was this big, gregarious man who brought such joy. He loved politics and he loved the news, that, somehow, I just can't believe he's gone. I mean, he literally had become part of my life. And I feel like I have lost part of my life with his passing here. BROWN: Bob, describe what it was that he brought to Sunday morning, to politics, that was so distinctive.

SCHIEFFER: Well, he did it the right way. He did his homework, to start with, Campbell.

By the time people got to "Face the Nation" -- or, I should say, "Meet the Press" on Sunday morning, Tim knew everything they had said since they had been in the first grade, and then he began to ask them about it.

He was not one of those reporters who tried to trip people up to get them to say something they didn't mean to say. He just would throw their words up there on the screen and then ask them about it.

He was trying to find out what they really meant. He was trying to get beyond the talking points. And because he had done his homework, he got that done.

The second thing that he did that was so vital -- and sometimes was kind of unusual in our business -- he listened to the answers that people gave. When you were on "Meet the Press," it was about you. It was not about Tim Russert. And that was that was what made him so effective.

BROWN: Bob, how do you think he would want to be remembered? What do you think he would want us to be talking about right now about him?

SCHIEFFER: Oh, I think the number-one thing would be his love of news, his love of journalism, and, most of all, his love of politics. He could never get enough of it.

He wanted to know all about it. He always knew some tale that nobody else knew. He always knew some bit of gossip that you probably had not heard about. He loved to sit around and just shoot the breeze about politics with politicians and with journalists.

Tim Russert not only made a great mark. I think, in his own way, Tim Russert was a great man. He had a great love for his family, his son, Luke, his wife, Maureen, and, most of all, I think, his dad, Big Russ.

I think one of the reasons -- and I hope Big Russ knows this -- that Tim was effective, Tim credited to Big Russ, because he said that -- he told me, you know, when Big Russ would call him and say, you got to explain this a way that we can understand it back home, and because of that, Tim talked to people beyond Washington. And he talked in a language that all of us could understand. And I think that's what made him so good.

BROWN: Bob, thank you so much for being here for us tonight. We appreciate it.

Bob Schieffer tonight.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you, Campbell.


BROWN: And, when we come back, I will talk with some of my colleagues who also knew Tim as a colleague, but even more so as a close friend.

That's next.


BROWN: Both politics and journalism are small, intimate fraternities. We all watched Tim Russert. Many of us knew him, and a lot of us worked with him.

Joining me tonight from Washington are Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala, CNN correspondent Joe Johns, who worked with Tim in the NBC Washington bureau, and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who is anchor of "THE SITUATION ROOM" and who, like Tim, is also from Buffalo.

Wolf, talk to us about how deep this loss is for journalism and for politics.

BLITZER: It is really deep.

I used to really look forward to hearing what Tim Russert had to say on almost any subject, Campbell, as you well know. And whenever Matt Lauer on "The Today Show" or Brian Williams on the "NBC Nightly News" would say, let's go to Tim Russert and debrief Tim and get some news from Tim, get some analysis from Tim, I always said, you know what, I better listen to this, because I will probably -- and almost always did -- learn something in the process.

It was just a pleasure to watch somebody who loved politics as much as he did and who was always working. He was always trying to get the inside story. And it is just a vacuum that is going to be missed terribly, I fear, by all of us.

BROWN: And, Paul, he was so excited about this campaign and what was going on in this political season.

And certainly, you know that for any presidential candidate, appearing on "Meet the Press" was mandatory. It was a certain rite of passage that they had to go through, wasn't it?


And, you know, a lot of people stumbled. That became a very, very important gate. I think, in 2004, one of the reasons I think that John Kerry wound up beating John Edwards is, Edwards had a famous kind of poor performance on "Meet the Press." And people thought, well, if Edwards can't win the Russert primary, he won't be able to win any of them.

I can't tell you -- having been -- I was a guest on the show. I also helped prepare many guests, including President Clinton, many times to go on that program. Boy, they used to say nothing focuses the mind like a hanging every fortnight. If you knew that you were going on Russert's show or if you boss was going on Russert's show, you had to have your act together.

You had to know, as Bob Schieffer told you in that earlier interview, everything that you had said going all the way back to the first grade, because he was going to have it, and he was going to throw it right back at you.


BEGALA: I'm sorry. Go ahead.

BROWN: Well, how did somebody like Bill Clinton prepare for Russert? Was Bill Clinton nervous about facing Tim down?

BEGALA: I never have seen Bill Clinton nervous in my life.


BEGALA: But I think they were much alike, in that they had such a love for both -- you know, some of us are kind of political hacks. And others are sort of policy wonks. And something Tim had that was almost unique in this business is, he had both.

He could talk at great length and real depth with actuarial experts about Social Security, and then he could turn to a political pollster and talk about what college-age women in California are going to do in the primary.

And I think, frankly, President Clinton saw that in Tim, and admired that in him greatly. They were able to communicate and, with the American people, try to talk about what the challenges were facing the country, but then also they could do backroom politics with the best of them.

BROWN: Joe, you and I both worked for Tim Russert. He was our boss for a long time. And he actually hired you, didn't he?

JOHNS: That's right.

And he was an incredible role model in a lot of ways for so many of us. He sort of took me out of local television, brought me into network TV, and let me go.

And, on top of that, when I went to him and said, I have this crazy idea about going to law school while working for "The Today Show," which you know is impossible, Russert looked at me and says, you know what, it may be a good idea; go ahead; it will be good for you.

He was always that guy who looked at you and said, if you want to take a risk, and you want to work hard, and you want to pile more on yourself, go ahead, because he did it all the time. BROWN: And, Joe, you know this, his work ethic. He would do "The Today Show" first thing in the morning. He would stay through "Nightly News." You would see him on MSNBC at night. There was no way you could slack off if you worked for Tim, because it was an impossible standard to live up to, wasn't it?

JOHNS: That's true. He's there day and night. He's always on the phone.

I mean, you didn't hear from Tim every single day. But if something was jumping, he was on the phone, in your ear, and he was following things every step of the way. He was always just a little bit ahead of the curve.

And, as you said, the thing was, if you got a guy who is working on "The Today Show," and then working "Nightly News," there's, what, 12, 14 hours between the prep time for those two shows, he's doing that, you can't just go and whine and say, I don't want to do it anymore because I'm too tired. Russert's not tired. He was never tired, or so it seemed.

BROWN: And, Wolf, you and Tim both proud sons of Buffalo. Did you ever talk about that and how that shaped you? He always pointed to that as such his touchstone.

BLITZER: He only spoke about it every single time he saw me, and every single time he probably saw so many other people.

Buffalo -- he was a real native son. He grew up in the south side, very, very humble origins. And he writes about it in his book, "Big Russ and Me." He writes about his dad, who worked two shifts. He was in the -- a sanitation worker, garbage collector, in Buffalo. He would leave the house very, very early in the morning, come back very, very late at night, worked and struggled to put food on the table and raise this family.

And that always stayed with Tim, his roots from south Buffalo, his whole life. And it made him a better journalist. It made him a great journalist, because he understood what people really were going through, hardworking people. He didn't come from sort of any ivory tower. He worked his way through Canisius High School, a Catholic school in Buffalo.

And then he went to college and law school in Cleveland. This is a guy who started at the bottom, and he wound up at the top. And he was just a terrific, terrific journalist. And, more important, Campbell, as you know and everybody who knew him, he was just a terrific guy.

BROWN: All right, Wolf, to Joe and to Paul, thanks so much, guys, a very sad night for all of us. Appreciate your time.

We're going to have much more on Tim Russert's extraordinary life when we come back -- right after this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He was a man of honesty and integrity. He was hard, but he was always fair.

We miss him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. And we know that Tim Russert leaves a legacy of integrity, of the highest level of journalism.


BROWN: That was Senator John McCain today paying tribute to Tim Russert.

And if you were a rising star in Washington, and Tim wanted you to appear on "Meet the Press," you knew you had arrived. And, then, if you had something to hide, you knew you were in trouble when you sat down with Tim. Everybody who is anybody in politics eventually made it to "Meet the Press."

And here now, Joe Johns with just a few of the famous faces who stopped by during Tim's 16-and-a-half years of Sunday morning interviews.


JOHNS (voice-over): An appearance with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" was considered a rite of passage, the step into the big leagues in Washington for relative newcomers to political power.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will sit down and consider it. And if at some point I change my mind, I will make a public announcement, and everybody will be able to go at me.


JOHNS: For longtime veterans.


MCCAIN: And I don't think a lot of Americans are as fully aware as they should be of the consequences of failure in Iraq.


JOHNS: Even for presidents themselves.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, the commission I set up is to obviously analyze what went right or what went wrong with the Iraqi intelligence. It was kind of lessons learned.


JOHNS: All of this year's major candidates for president sat down with Russert to explain or defend themselves.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So, I think it is important to set the record straight. Clearly, we know from media reports that the Obama campaign is deliberately distorting this. And, you know, I think we should just take a step out here for a minute.


JOHNS: While sitting down with Tim Russert may have been obligatory, it was never easy. You had better have done your homework, because Russert had done his.


RUSSERT: A fee is not a tax?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Well, if it were a tax, it would be called a tax.


RUSSERT: That's a gimmick.

ROMNEY: No, it is reality. And I am not trying to hide from the fact we raised fees. We raised fees $240 million.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If you want to be taken seriously, if you wanted to pass the test of being a serious player in Washington, you had to go on his show.

JOHNS: He would be gracious, fair and tough. You could count on it.


RUSSERT: That's all for today. We will be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's "Meet the Press."



BROWN: A politician never got a pass on "Meet the Press." But they kept coming back for more. And that's a tribute to Tim Russert.

Joining me now, Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, who appeared on "Meet the Press" 41 times, and Howard Kurtz, host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and media critic for "The Washington Post." Dick, you do interviews all the time, I know, but being a guest on "Meet the Press" was never an easy interview. Try to describe for people what it was like to sit across that famous table on Sunday morning.

DICK GEPHARDT (D), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, before I went on, when I was in the green room, or when I sat down at the table, I was really nervous. I had butterflies in my stomach, because I knew Tim would have all my former statements that I had made on any subject. So, he would throw those at me.

So, I better know those and be ready with a good explanation. He was tough, but he was fair. And he was just a decent good guy that you always liked being around. We're really going to miss him.

BROWN: And what was he like off camera? When the interview was over, as the lights went down, you're in the green room together, give us a sense for that.

GEPHARDT: He was just really funny and friendly. He was always really, you know, bringing up subjects that he knew I would like to talk about, whether it was the Cardinals or the Rams. He would talk about the Bills.

He had a subject matter for everybody who came. Even if you weren't a sports fan, I'm sure he carried on great conversations. He was just a kind, good person. I will tell you one good story. When I was -- the night before the Iowa caucuses in 2004, I had Chuck Berry from Saint Louis, the great rock 'n' roll star, and coming down the hall was Tom Brokaw and Tim.

And Tim said to me, you know, I have been wanting all my life to meet Chuck Berry and learn how to duck dance. Would you take me to Chuck Berry and get me to learn how to duck dance?

So, I did. And there I saw in the backstage area before Berry went on him teaching Tim how to duck dance.


GEPHARDT: You can imagine what that looked like.

BROWN: No, I can't.


BROWN: Howie, let me go to you. I want to talk about his influence, because Tim said -- and I think it was the morning after the Indiana, North Carolina primary -- he said on television, this Democratic primary is over. Barack Obama is the nominee now. No one can dispute that.

And that was treated like a news event, essentially, that dictate coming from the mouth of Tim Russert.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I happened to be at NBC -- MSNBC that night when he said that. And he didn't even want to go home, he was so pumped up.

But there is so much punditry on the airwaves, as you know, Campbell, these days. But when Russert said that on May 6, you know, it was almost like the race was over, even though there were many delegates yet to be selected.

It wasn't that he was always right. He could be wrong, like any other political commentator. But everybody knew that, not only he did prepare prodigiously for those interviews that Congressman Gephardt just talked about, but also that he was constantly on his cell phone with every political operative from every party, from every corner of the universe, it seemed. And, so, he had the freshest intelligence. And he had a very sharp, analytical mind.

BLITZER: And, Howie, talk to people a little bit about the white board, because he used it in the 2000 campaign on election night. It became like this iconic symbol, didn't it?

KURTZ: In an age of all the fancy graphics and interactive maps and all of that, Russert had his white board, in which he wrote famously, "Florida, Florida, Florida," which of course turned out to be the entire story of that disputed 2000 election.

And it was almost like -- your guest had talked earlier about Tim Russert being a son of blue-collar Buffalo and son of a sanitation worker. He never quite forgot that. He was able to translate -- even though he was a Washington insider, and, late in life, a multimillionaire, he was able to translate the complexity of politics to the average guy, the average joe sitting on his couch in the living room, with something like that white board. And that was part of his gift, I think, as a political analyst.

BROWN: Congressman Dick Gephardt and Howie Kurtz for us tonight -- guys, thanks very much. Appreciate you coming on.

Coming up, everybody: Tim Russert started out in the political trenches, and he ended up a superstar. We are going to talk a lot more about his legacy when we come back right after this.



OBAMA: He's somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist, but a friend.

There wasn't a better interviewer in television, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics. And he was also one of the finest men I knew.


BROWN: Barack Obama on Tim Russert today.

Joining me now, three people who knew him very well, Sally Quinn of "The Washington Post," founder and co-moderator of "On Faith" from "The Post" and "Newsweek," CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala back with us, along with Wolf Blitzer, anchor of CNN's "SITUATION ROOM."

And, Sally, you know Washington better than anybody. You have had Tim and his wife as guests in your home. How will Washington remember him?

SALLY QUINN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": You know, one of the things that Tim talked to me a lot about when I did a video interview with him on faith was the Kennedys, Jack Kennedy. The Kennedys meant a lot to him. And first, their Catholicism and he -- he really admired them and I think he aspired to be a lot like Jack Kennedy.

And I think that one of the things when I found out about Tim's death today, I thought Jack Kennedy and I also thought about Katharine (ph) Graham, because those were two people who were larger than life the way Tim was, and who had huge impact and influence and power in Washington, and a kind of energy and an aura about them that almost no one else has, and that I have rarely seen here in this city.

And I think that he's going to be remembered for that incredible energy. And it wasn't -- it was an exuberance and an excitement and just the whole sort of thrill of being alive and being part of it and being where the action was and being into it. But there was also a goodness about him that he just exuded and when he walked in the room, he always made you feel good.

I mean, Russert would come over and he'd say how are you? And he really was asking, "How are you?" He wasn't looking over his shoulder to see if there was somebody better to talk to in the room. And he genuinely cared about people.

And I think that he said he was so moved by Jack Kennedy's speech when he was inaugurated where he said, "God's work must truly be our own." He took that to heart. And he felt that it was -- he said to me in the interview, you know, it's not about a big job and making a lot of money, which so many people in Washington think it's about, or power. It's about having a deeper meaning and a deeper purpose in your life.

And people keep wondering, you know, how he would like to be remembered. I think, of course, he wants to be remembered as a great journalist. But if I had to say what he would be the most thrilled about as an epitaph would be good father, good husband, good son, good friend.

BROWN: Let me ask Wolf about something that was pretty incredible that you were there with him for, just a couple of months ago. Tim was a pretty devoted Catholic, and you had the chance to meet the Pope with him. Tell us what it was like that moment.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we were both invited, Campbell, by the president of the Catholic University to have this small little audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Father David O'Connell, you see him in the middle of the picture right there, he invited 10 friends of Catholic University and both Tim and I had spoken there. We both gave commencement addresses there, got honorary degrees from Catholic University. And he was just so excited in that little room there, 10 of us, waiting to meet with Pope Benedict XVI, and he was just like a little boy. He had his little rosaries with him, and he was waiting for the Pope to bless those, those rosaries.

This was not the Tim Russert who was getting ready to grill a senator or anything like that. He was little Timmy from Canisius High School on the south side of Buffalo about to meet Pope Benedict XVI. And he looked at me and we stood there for a while before the Pope came in to that room and he said can you believe it? He said can you believe it? Two guys from Buffalo, we're about to meet with the Pope. Does it get any better than this?

He was just so proud. He was so excited. And he was, as you point out, a devout Catholic. He went to church every week and this meant so much to him. He just worked so hard. As Father O'Connell said, you know, he lobbied him big time to get that little audience with the Pope and he was just thrilled by it.

BROWN: Paul Begala, I want to ask you about his transition from politics to journalism when we come back after a quick break. Stay with us, everyone. Lots more about the incredible life of Tim Russert.



SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: He was a great guy, a great journalist. And the truth is he made us all better.


BROWN: We are remembering one of the giants of the news business tonight, Tim Russert. And back with me now, Sally Quinn, Paul Begala and Wolf Blitzer.

And Paul, let me ask you about his life pre "Meet the Press." He worked very closely with New York Governor Mario Cuomo and with Pat Moynihan. I mean, these are giants in Democratic politics. Talk to me about their influence on him.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: As two of the most rigorous Catholic minds that you ever came across, Governor Cuomo and Senator Moynihan, very demanding men. Didn't suffer fools gladly and I think that they helped instill even more of that rigor and that work ethic that Tim inherited from his father.

You know, he made the journey first from law to politics, then from politics to journalism. And I think each of those three professions is somewhat adversarial, right? We get at the truth in a courtroom or in a campaign or in a newsroom by going back and forth and arguing a bit, right? It's contentious. But at the same time, Tim understood that there were bounds and limits and rules, and he never fell into the sort of hyper adversarial sort of cross fire mode that I myself have been guilty of for far too much of my career. It really was a remarkable way that he could blend those three lives.

BROWN: And, Wolf, you know, even that said, having come from that background, I don't think anybody would argue that he was any easier on Democrats than he was on Republicans, certainly when he moved into the role he had on "Meet the Press".

BLITZER: And he was no easier on people that were friendly with him. Colin Powell, the former secretary of state, the general, you know, they were good friends. On many occasions they would go out and they were involved in charitable deeds, America's Promise, one of the groups that Colin Powell was deeply involved in.

But you know what, when he came on the show, he would ask him all the tough questions. It was as if they barely knew each other and that was one of the great things about Tim Russert. He could do that in a way that was good for his viewers.

You know that he had a tremendous obligation as the host of "Meet the Press" to continue that long tradition. This is the longest running program on television going back to Lawrence Spivak, and he wanted to make sure that he honored that tradition by asking fair but very tough questions.

BROWN: And Sally, you know, we've all been talking about his work ethic. We all know the hours he put in, but he was really tight with his family.

QUINN: His family was everything to him, and Luke certainly was the light of his life. He named Luke after St. Luke, from to whom much is given, much is expected. And he -- that was what he instilled in Luke. And, I mean, he said to me that the greatest joy and the greatest moment of his life was when Luke was born and nothing -- he said nothing could ever come close to that.

But, you know, I wanted to say something about the intensity and the preparedness of his show. He was always asking the right question and whether it was a Democrat or a Republican, you never knew where he stood and he was always trying to get to the truth. And he told me once, he said that in school when he was about 10 years old, "Time" magazine came out with a cover story that said, Is God dead? And, of course, he was going to an all-Catholic school. The magazine was banished. Everyone canceled their subscription of "Time."

And one day one of his teachers came in, a priest, and he said, OK, put your books aside. Everybody, here's "Time" magazine, you have to read this. And they were all shocked. What do you mean we're going to read this?

And he said, listen, if you are going to be a person of faith, then you need to understand why you are a person of faith. You need to understand why you have it and you need to have people tell you that it isn't fair. And then you need to wrestle with it and struggle with it and come to your own conclusions otherwise you never will be a true person of faith.

I mean, that was the beginning of Tim sort of debating with himself, debating about his faith, and then going on to be a debater and interviewer and journalist for the rest of his life.

BROWN: Right. Sally Quinn tonight, Paul Begala and our own Wolf Blitzer, thank you all. Really appreciate it.

And we should mention Sally was talking about Luke. We should say that our thoughts and prayers are very much with Luke and with Maureen and Tim Russert's family tonight.

Tim also worked very closely with the late David Bloom, the NBC News correspondent who died suddenly of a blood clot condition back in 2003 when he was covering the invasion of Iraq. And with me on the phone right now is David Bloom's widow, Melanie Bloom.

And Melanie, talk to us a little bit about Tim's relationship with David, and the kind of boss that he was.

VOICE OF MELANIE BLOOM, WIDOW OF FMR. NBC CORRESPONDENT DAVID BLOOM: (OFF-MIKE) Mentor to David and not just a mentor, but a father figure in a sense and a dear friend. And David had the utmost respect and admiration for him at every level. And this is -- this is a tremendous loss that we all are experiencing and mourning and grieving together as a nation, for the loss of such a wonderful, wonderful man.

BROWN: And Melanie, when you lost David, Tim was really there for you, wasn't he?

BLOOM: You know, that's the thing. With no one watching and no cameras on, it was Tim there, reaching out to my girls and me when we lost David, and really doing everything he could, you know, to reach out to us in our darkest moments. And he was just tireless in his desire to provide us with some comfort and some solace, even as he was grieving himself for the loss of his, you know, colleague and friend.

And, again, Tim, you know, Tim cared deeply and profoundly about people. And that's what made him a truly, truly great man.

BROWN: Melanie, what do you think you'll remember most about him?

BLOOM: I think that twinkle in his eye. He had such a joyful approach to life. And his kindness, his warmth, when again after David passed, it was Tim who championed for an award to be established in David's memory with the correspondents dinner, and each year Tim is there to greet the Bloom girls and me with big, big bear hugs. He wants to know all about school. And he takes the time on a very personal level to connect and to care, and he makes you feel like you're most special person in the room when you're with him and it's always that twinkle in the eye. So those, those are some fond, fond memories that we'll carry with us about Tim.

BROWN: A twinkle in the eye. Melanie, thank you so much. Melanie Bloom for us tonight. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this.

BLOOM: Thank you, Campbell. BROWN: There is some other news tonight we're going to talk about, including the devastating flooding in the Midwest. More than 10,000 people forced out of their homes in Iowa alone. We're going to take you there when we come back after a quick break.


BROWN: We'll have much more coming up on the life of Tim Russert. But right now in Des Moines, Iowa, people living in low lying areas are urged to get out. Floodwaters threaten the state capital downtown area. And in Cedar Rapids, where much of the city is already underwater, the Cedar River is due to crest tonight 12 feet above the old record that was set nearly 80 years ago.

CNN's Sean Callebs is in Cedar Rapids right now for us. Sean, a glimmer of hope where you are. I know the water has actually receded in the last few hours, but the danger is far from over, isn't it?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, without question, Campbell, it's a perfect way to describe it.

If you look down in front of me, you can see a pink line that the city came in and put a line up earlier. And that was the high point on the water. That was just four hours ago, so look how much it has actually pulled back in that short bit of time.

However, the danger is out here. The authorities are doing everything they can to keep people out of their homes. They know the weekend is coming up, the weather is nice. People want to get back in there. They want to try and save whatever they can. So they're trying to keep people out. They don't want any injuries.

We just saw an amazing scene just a short while ago. A couple of locals rescued. A 77-year-old man who lived in his house entire life. He had never seen the water that high. He'd been eating dry macaroni and cheese for the past couple of days.

The last bit of good news, if everything holds out, no rain, the water should pull out of this flood area in the next five days and be back to its normal level, Campbell, by June 24th -- Campbell.

BROWN: Wow. All right. Sean Callebs for us in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Sean, thanks.

In a moment, we're going to have more on the life and death of Tim Russert. He was a giant off camera as well, a mentor and author. All of that in the ELECTION CENTER when we come back.


BROWN: Larry King is joining us right now. And Larry, I know that you knew Tim Russert very well and you're going to have a lot to talk about tonight.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": I sure do. We'll have some personal recollections as well. I went a long way - long way back with Tim. A man of enormous influence passed away today at only 58 years old.

Barbara Walters, Bob Schieffer, Ted Koppel, Senator John Edwards are among our guests, and Campbell Brown will be there, too. And I know Tim's death has hit you very hard as well, Campbell.

BROWN: Gave me my first job in network television, Larry, a wonderful boss, and we'll talk about that a little bit tonight.

KING: Thanks.

BROWN: Thanks, Larry. We'll see you soon.

Politics and political journalism weren't Tim Russert's only claim to fame. Next, in his own words and his own voice, Tim's tribute to his father that touched millions of fathers and children.


BROWN: You're looking right now at a live picture. People are gathering out in front of the Washington bureau for NBC News, where they are leaving flowers and those signature white boards that became iconic after Tim Russert used it to take us through what was happening during the 2000 election night. Florida, Florida, Florida, a moment that many of us will never forget.

In 2005, Tim Russert wrote a book that would become a number one bestseller, a tribute to his father who is known as "Big Russ."

Tim wasn't born into his career as a preeminent D.C. reporter. Far from it, "Big Russ" was a World War II vet who settled in Buffalo, worked as a sanitation worker and truck driver. And Tim's great respect and love for his father is clear when you hear him reading from his book "Big Russ & Me" about his life-long relationship with the man he called his hero.


VOICE OF: TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: The older I get the smarter my father seems to get. I've learned so much from "Big Russ." I feel so grateful to him that I wanted to write a book about the two of us and also about the other important teachers in my life. The father/son relationship is unique. Whatever we achieve and whoever we are, we stand on their shoulder.


BROWN: One of the things his dad "Big Russ" taught him about was hard work. Tim's dedication to his job and his work ethic were legendary, one of the reasons he had the amazing career he did. Tim reading again from his bestselling book "Big Russ & Me."


VOICE OF: TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: I learned a few things too. There is no substitute for getting up in the morning reporting to work on time and putting in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. That everybody has a job to do and a contribution to make, and that no matter how small that job may seem in the larger scheme of things, if it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing well.


BROWN: President Bush released this statement on Tim Russert's death saying, "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who knew him and worked with him, worked with Tim, his many friends and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him. Tim was a tough, hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared while on it."

So many of us in the news business were lucky to work with Tim Russert. When we come back, my own memories of a great newsman who is also a great friend.


BROWN: I have to end this program tonight on a personal note. Tim hired me as a Washington correspondent for NBC News. I was young, green, and struggling to figure out the world of Washington politics. On more than one occasion, Tim would call me with a tip, some bit of news that would help beef up whatever story I was working on at the time. And Tim knew it would help me impress the bosses in New York. He always let me take the credit.

He would always share this little scoop and then in the phone call saying, you got that? Now, go get them. When I covered the White House for NBC, one of the president's people would sometimes call Tim to complain about my coverage. Tim always backed me up. He always defended his people. And I was lucky to have been one of his people.

I had a baby in December and when I got home from the hospital, there was a handwritten note from Tim. It was written not to me, but to my newborn son, welcoming him to the world. He had written how lucky my son was to have my husband and I as parents, and how fortunate he was to have been born into this wonderful world. And he offered him an internship on "Meet the Press" when he grew up.

Tim Russert was a great mentor and a great friend. And I will miss him very much.

"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.