Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Meet Nbc's Tim Russert, a Rising Star in News

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Meet Nbc's Tim Russert, a Rising Star in News

Article excerpt

IMPACT. It's a word Tim Russert uses a lot. The anchor of NBC's "Meet the Press" boasts that his Sunday morning talk show has "impact way beyond the numbers."

To hear Russert tell it, "Meet the Press" forced Ross Perot to seek cover during his presidential campaign, helped put the issue of illegitimacy on the map, set off debate about nuclear weapons in Korea and turned up pressure on Congress to curb spending on entitlement programs.

"It frames the issues and sets the agenda for both the press and for the government leaders in Washington," says Russert.

He may be right - but not everyone agrees. No less an authority than George Bush once declared that the Sunday morning TV shows produce nothing but liberal hot air.

"Those nutty talking heads on Sunday morning!" Bush exclaimed at the height of his re-election campaign. "They don't matter!"

The truth probably lies somewhere in between.

There's no doubt that "Meet the Press" (8 a.m. Sundays on Channel 5) has made Russert, 43, a rising star inside NBC News. Since he took over the program in December 1991, the ratings have risen dramatically.

And last month, NBC's cable outlet CNBC gave Russert another show, "Tim Russert," in which he explores the role of the media. His new program can be seen at 7 p.m. Mondays.

Despite Russert's Democratic pedigree, he's widely regarded as an equal opportunity prosecutor. "That show ("Meet the Press") has improved tremendously under him," says Brent Baker, a media analyst with the conservative Media Research Center. "He asks the nonconventional wisdom questions and he challenges people, challenges their premises. He comes at both Republicans and Democrats."

Russert relishes his role as a force in Washington. "Meet the Press," ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley" and CBS' "Face the Nation" are all but required viewing for the locals: politicos, their staff members, lobbyists and the press.

Regular viewers include the president and the vice president, the Cabinet, Supreme Court and most of Congress, says Russert. "It's almost a video newsletter on Sunday mornings that they're sending each other. They're tacking it on the White House wall, or on the doors of Congress."

The problem is that the rest of the country may feel left out of the loop. It reflects a city where folks get more excited by the State of the Union address than by the Oscars.

It's a city where Russert, 43, feels right at home. A political animal and certified insider, he spent seven years as a top aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo before joining NBC as a vice president in New York in 1984. In 1988, he became NBC's Washington bureau chief and, two years later, he took a spot on the "Meet the Press" panel.

Now he's a bigger player in Washington than he ever was as a senatorial aide. He's had dinner at the White House with President Clinton and, when he was roasted at a charity fund-raiser a few months back, speakers included Sen. Bob Kerrey, former education secretary Bill Bennett, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and politico-turned-pundit-turned-politico David Gergen. …

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