Monday, June 16, 2008

Asked to head 'Meet the Press,' Russert saw himself as 'too ugy'

Why Tim Russert stood out among his many talented news media peers is explained in this Newsweek Q & A with Jack Hurley, a 30-year veteran of broadcast news. Hurley is now deputy director of the recently opened Newseum in Washington, the "interactive museum of news."

Hurley talks about Russert's richly varied background. He earned a law degree, but went to work in politics for two New York legislative legends --first for senator Daniel Moynihan and then governor Mario Cuomo -- before he joined NBC. At the network he was a guy who chose to stay behind a desk in the newsroom before being tapped -- against his will because he thought he was "too ugly" -- by then NBC News President Michael Gartner to moderate "Meet the Press," a legacy Sunday public affairs program that, in its fifth decade, was going nowhere against its morning competition, led by "This Week With David Brinkley" on ABC. (It hurt, of course, that Brinkley earned his network news chops at NBC as the wry half of the "Huntley-Brinkley" evening news program.)

The TV news person who may come closest to Russert in political pedigree is ABC's George Stephanopoulos, who was communications director for President Bill Clinton. Stephanapoulos has gained a lot of news cred over the past several years, moderating "This Week," serving as the network's chief Washington correspondent, regularly appearing on various ABC venues and wearing out a lot of shoe leather on the hustings. In this political year, Stephanapoulos has an opportunity to exploit his double background -- as Tim Russert did so well.

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