Today a public wake for Tim Russert will be held in Washington DC, yesterday his son Luke made an utterly remarkable appearance on the Today show, sharing memories of his dad along with Matt Lauer. I could NOT have been as thoughtful and together under the circumstances. I extend my deepest sympathies to the Russert family in their time of loss.
As a great man passes, the grief now turns into questions. How can NBC fill such enormous shoes, particularly at this significant time? In suggesting possible Meet the Press hosts, Gawker’s list includes such suggestions as Andrea Mitchell, Katie Couric, Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, and Keith Olbermann. The person who takes that seat every Sunday morning needs to be a calm, collected, experienced interviewer, a journalist who is unafraid to steer a conversation into uncomfortable territory. And I think they also need to hire someone who isn’t blatantly partisan, which eliminates some of the aforementioned. Tom Brokaw will likely take the helm for a while, and I think Brian Williams makes a likely, excellent choice… but what about Gwen Ifill? I’m a longtime admirer of hers, particularly as the host of PBS’s Washington Week.
Ifill’s first love was print journalism, but Russert helped her transition into the world of television, as she recalls in this touching tribute, “Farewell to a Standup Brother,” featured on The Root (love that site, BTW).
“There is quite a line of people who, at various times, have taken credit for my career. I usually let them do it, even if I remember events quite differently. But Tim deserves the credit. He not only talked me into switching to TV against my first instincts, but â€” five years later â€” he engineered a way for me to leave NBC when I was offered the chance to become the first African American to host a weekly public affairs program, Washington Week, over on PBS. He not only talked NBC executives into getting me out of my contract, but he also looked me in the eye and told me this was something I absolutely, positively had to do.”
Gwen also remembered her experiences with Russert on NPR with Farai Chideya and Michele Norris yesterday, in an interview that illuminated Russert’s role in mentoring several black journalists of note. In that vein, I think appointing Gwen Ifill as a moderator of Meet the Press would not only be a historic and significant decision by NBC, but I think it would make Russert tremendously pleased. At the end of that interview, Chideya invites the two esteemed journalists to consider how the election will be covered now, in light of Russert’s passing. Ifill expresses concern for the future of journalism — the industry truly is in terrifying times. There were significant layoffs at the daily in my own city just yesterday, so it’s hitting me all quite close to home.
“I think that it’s possible that Tim – I don’t think he’ll be replaced — but somebody will step in and we will ask the right questions. This campaign is too consequential, there are too many important issues to get to, for the questions not to be asked. They will be asked, but not quite in the same way.”
Too true. As someone who enjoys Ifill’s interview style — like Salon describes, she truly does exhibit “an external sense of cool and serenity, while underneath lie serious smarts, smooth execution and a healthy dose of skepticism” — I think she’d be a great choice. At any rate, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Gwen Ifill on NBC in the days to come, because as she said, this election is too significant. She can certainly be relied upon to ask the right questions, to bring a fresh perspective to this history in the making.
For this past Sunday’s Meet the Press, Gwen Ifill sat in a semicircle before that familiar table, alongside many Meet the Press regulars — Mike Barnicle, Maria Shriver, Doris Kearns Goodwin, James Carville and Mary Matalin (for some truly touching photos from the episode, click here. That one of Carville and Matalin made me weep too).
What are your thoughts, bellas? Is there any particular journalist who you’d like to see as the next host of the longest-running television show in worldwide broadcasting history?