WNY's All Time Greatest Media Figure: Tim Russert
Photos courtesy of NBC and the Buffalo Bisons
Before he became the longest running moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, Tim Russert was just another kid from South Buffalo—humble roots he never forgot, despite his rise to national prominence. Russert penned two best-selling books about his father, “Big Russ,” and frequently referenced Western New York and his beloved Bills on the air.
A graduate of Canisius High School, Russert demonstrated a tough but fair approach to interviewing and frequently took politicians to task over inconsistencies in their statements. “He knew how to set up the questions and come in with the zingers—that’s what he was known for,” says Dave Gillen, president of the Buffalo Broadcasting Association. “He was just an average guy who made the big time, but he never let that go to his head. He was always very appreciative of his roots, certainly of his family, and of his religion, too.”
It was that approachable, everyman nature that lifted Meet the Press from third to first in the ratings and made it must-see Sunday morning television for more than four million regular viewers. National accolades back up those numbers.
In 2001, Russert received the Edward R. Murrow Award for his interview of Senator John McCain. He was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2003 and, two years later, won an Emmy for his coverage of President Ronald Reagan’s funeral. In 2008, Time magazine named Russert—who also served as NBC’s Washington Bureau chief—one of the 100 most influential people in the world and wrote, “Russert is among the most astute, discerning and relentless pursuers of truth in the nation, and has been for years.”
Sadly, just a few months later, Russert died unexpectedly from a heart attack, and flags across Buffalo fell to half-staff in mourning. Four years later, Buffalo certainly hasn’t forgotten him: The Buffalo Broadcaster’s Association awards an annual scholarship in Russert’s honor. A park near the city line in West Seneca bears his name. And, fittingly, a stretch of Route 20 by Ralph Wilson Stadium is named Timothy J. Russert Highway, a reminder of the many times over his sixteen years on the air that Russert proudly left viewers with one parting thought: “Go Bills.”
Matthew Biddle is assistant editor of Western New York Heritage and a frequent Spree contributor.