Back in high school, it was a friend who first introduced me to American politics.  She was a die hard Democrat at the time and often spent her Sunday mornings closely watching Meet the Press.  She also enjoyed watching hours of C-Span and memorizing films such as The American President and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  She wanted to attend college to learn about screenwriting so she could pen important political films like Saving Private Ryan, Primary Colors or Legally Blonde. 

Sometime around her 16th birthday, my family and I took a vacation to Cape Cod and in a gift shop I found stuffed elephants and donkeys dressed in patriotic outfits.  What a perfect birthday present!  The only problem was that I had no idea which animal represented which political party.  I asked my parents—they didn’t have a clue.  So I purchased both, thinking that one would make a nice gift and the other could be used for target practice. 

After feeling embarrassed about my political naiveté, I decided to smarten up and pay attention.  I started gauging my personal beliefs and matching them to the appropriate candidates and political action groups.  At the end of high school and in college, I registered for political science classes.  Although my friend introduced me to Meet the Press in 1997, I didn’t start watching it myself until the lead up to the 2000 presidential election.  I spent many nights in college watching election coverage on MSNBC where Meet the Press’s moderator, Tim Russert, was a regular talking head.  The 2000 election was my first chance to vote and I really enjoyed Tim’s enthusiasm about politics.  No matter how late at night he was on television, he always seemed giddy and happy to be doing his job.  I’ve been a die hard Russert fan for 8 years.   

Given my personal journey in caring about politics, I am completely heartbroken about the death of Tim Russert.  I was skimming my Google Feed Reader on Friday afternoon and saw a post from Perez Hilton (oh, the shame!) about his death; at first, I didn’t believe it.  A visit to CNN and MSNBC confirmed his death.  What a loss for this country and our media. 

Watching Meet the Press had become a Sunday morning ritual in my house.  While eating cereal in our pajamas, my partner and I would talk to the television as if we were watching a basketball game.  “Yeah McCain, what do you think about that weapons report?!”  “Ohhhh, Tim’s going to bring up her speech in Iowa!  Snap!” 

When I first started watching Meet the Press, I often found myself frustrated because I couldn’t figure out Tim Russert’s political agenda.  Was he a conservative Catholic?  Liberal Democrat?  Socialist?  One week he would call President Bush to the carpet (Go Tim!), only to be equally critical of a Democrat on the next show.  It took me several months to figure out that his political ambiguity was a gift to all viewers because it meant that he was sticking to the ethical code for journalists.  Although I love op-ed pieces in the newspaper and personal opinions in blogs, it was refreshing to watch a professional journalist ask important questions without showing a personal bias. 

If you did not catch today’s Meet the Press tribute to Tim Russert, please check it out here.  The whole show was very moving and I learned a lot about the man behind the moderator.  Rest in peace, Tim.