NBC's 'Meet the Press' host suffers heart attack

Tim Russert, moderator of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and a widely respected political journalist, died Friday of an apparent heart attack. The Peacock’s D.C. bureau chief was 58.

NBC interrupted its regular mid-afternoon programming as Tom Brokaw, the former anchor of “NBC Nightly News” and a longtime friend of Russert, announced that newsman had collapsed while at work.

Other networks immediately picked up the story. CNN, Fox and Bloomberg Television – in addition to NBC’s cable ops, MSNBC and CNBC – launched extensive coverage focusing on reactions from an array of people, from colleagues and competitors to admirers and people Russert had grilled on “MTP.” All expressed shock.

Many also expressed admiration. Former GOP Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich praised Russert for his even-handedness when interviewing guests. Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain called him “the preeminent political journalist of his generation.”

Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’ Sunday talker “Face the Nation,” said: “Tim was the best of our profession. He asked the best questions and then he listened for the answer. He delighted in scooping me and I felt the same way when I scooped him. When you slipped one past ol’ Russert, you felt as though you had hit a home run off the best pitcher in the league.”

President George Bush also expressed condolences. “Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert,” Bush said in a statement. “Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends, and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him… He was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades. Tim was a tough and hardworking newsman. He was always well-informed and thorough in his interviews. And he was as gregarious off the set as he was prepared on it.”

Former Bush White House staffer and now Fox News contributor Karl Rove praised Russert as “a family man,” “a patriot” and a “fair and tough” interviewer.

Brokaw had said that Russert had just recently returned from a family trip to Italy. There was no indication whether he had been suffering or experiencing any ill health.

ABC News prexy David Westin said: “Tim Russert was a great newsman who helped set the standard for political reporting and public affairs programming. His fine work made all of us better and benefited the Nation as a result. Tim was also a great friend to so many of us. But above all, Tim was a man devoted to his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them and everyone at NBC News at this devastating time.”

NBC News had yet to issue any statements by late Friday afternoon. Calls and emails to the network’s New York headquarters and D.C. bureau were not immediately returned.

Russert became moderator of “MTP” in 1991 and held the job longer than any previous moderator of the 60-year-old show. Under his stewardship, “MTP” dominated ratings among the Sunday morning talkers. He was also author of two best-selling books, and Time magazine named him this year as one of the most 100 influential people in the world.

Russert was married to magazine journalist Maureen Orth. Their son, Luke, recently graduated from Boston College.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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