New correspondents like Edward R. Murrow, Hugh Downs, and Mike Wallace live on past their time on earth. They are to the news media what Ethel Barrymore and Richard Harris are to the Hollywood film industry. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press from 1991 to 2008, is of their ilk having made an indelible impact on audiences. In his book Big Russ and Me which he wrote in 2004, four years prior to his passing, he credits his father for raising him to be the type of man that people would respect, and for never standing in the way of his dreams.
Russert’s book is filled with interesting anecdotes, some of which he retold after hearing them from people he respected such as Senator Moynihan, President George W. Bush, Father Sturm, and Sister Lucille. He shares with the reader the vital turning points in his life, the experiences he’s had of great joy and triumph, and those when he’s been scolded and reprimanded. His book is well-balanced, speaking to the reader realistically. He never proclaims to be the saint in his family, nor does he whine about his disappointments and feelings of being deprived. He lets the reader know that he’s had both good and bad moments, and that taking the good with the bad is essential to living through life.
His story does not begin with his birth but rather with his father’s upbringing and time in the U.S. Air Force during World War II. Tim Russert is a true baby boomer born in 1950. He exemplifies his generation as he explains his father’s service to the U.S. Armed Forces, how his father raised him and his sisters to be good-standing citizens with a love and loyalty to their country. His knowledge of his father demonstrates his abilities as an investigative reporter, though journalism was not the first profession he entered after graduating with a Catholic school education.
Russert details his Catholic school education with genuine affection for it, though he gives credence to those students who claimed to have been violated by their Catholic school instructors. He imparts that he never suffered such a victimization, though he does not deny that others have. His open-mindedness on the topic separated him from his father’s generation. A trait that would come to define baby boomers as being able to question authoritarian figures and keep an open mind.
From Catholic school to earning a B.A. and then a J.D., he seemed to have a meteoric rise, which he credits to being an honest hard-worker like his father. Politics is the first profession he entered as an adult, and from there the position of being the anchor for the popular NBC program Meet the Press was waiting for him.
Russert’s approach to writing about his life and his relationship with his father does not have the usual chronological order that most autobiographies are structured to have. Rather, Russert writes with a stream of consciousness mind. Events and memories come back to him when they are relevant to the topic. He’ll talk about his father taking him to baseball games as a child and jump ahead to when he would take his son Luke to baseball games. Even with the stories dotted in flashbacks and moments that move the reader ahead a few decades, the flow of the read is easy to grasp. He makes readers feel like they are listening to the tales of an old friend. The language has an intimate friendly tone and moves comfortably for the reader, proving that Russert had good social skills as well as the acumen of an investigative reporter.
Big Russ and Me is a charming read. Though Russert was heavily involved in politics coming out of college, political controversies take a backseat in his book. His emphasis is on the family dynamics, experiences with friends, reflections about the world around him, and most importantly, his relationship with his father.