My Dad will be buried in Arlington Cemetery on July 23 at 1 p.m. with military honors. He died a few months ago at the age of 89 after serving 33 years in the U.S. Navy and then 20 years as a high-school physics teacher. No celebrities will attend his funeral. It won't get a week’s worth of coverage on national television. I can't tell you how disgusted I was by the TV coverage of Tim Russert's death.
When the NBC Nightly News did their entire half-hour broadcast on his death, I was shocked at how out of proportion the coverage was to Russert’s place on the planet. He was not a world leader, he was not the head of a freedom movement, he was not raising money for disadvantaged children. He was the host of a not-prime time news show. By whose value system is his death more important than JFK and the pope? By NBC's apparently.
I kept hearing what a great father Russert was. My father only had eight kids and raised them on Navy pay, and all but one (me) graduated from college. Russert had one child, raised him on celebrity pay, took the boy to all the Super Bowl and World Series games and got the kid anything money could buy. I think we all know who was the better father.
Many talking heads said Russert loved his work. My Dad loved the Navy. He served in World War II, and when I was young, he was out commanding a destroyer squadron in the 6th Fleet during the Cold War on “Good Will Tours.” He’d be gone for six months at a time. He loved it. But Russert's love was way better than my Dad's because he was on television.
They say Russert never forgot where he came from, that even though he was on television he didn't have a swelled head.
My Dad never forgot the tiny Montana town where he was born, his mother who died when he was 3, the ranch that his father had to sell during the Depression that some movie star bought a few years ago. But Russert came from Buffalo, N.Y., which we all know is better, because it is the birthplace of Tim Russert.
Over and over and over and over and over and over (add a week’s worth of overs), we heard that Russert was a nice guy. It seems that being on television and being nice is so extraordinary in the world of TV journalism that it’s worth mentioning repeatedly.
It’s not Russert’s fault that television used his death to sell more cereal under the guise of being heartbroken, but it is the fault of the business he was in, a business that aggrandizes the trivial and trivializes the important. By the end of the first week, my shock at the news of such a young man’s death and my sympathy for his family were exhausted. An unexpected celebrity death is like discovering gold for television; now, Russert ranks right up there with the greats of TV overkill: Anna Nicole Smith, Lacy Peterson, Natalee Holloway and JonBenet Ramsey. I hope he would have been appalled.
After doing an entire 30-minute broadcast on his death the day he died, NBC Nightly News is back to doing what they should have done the day He died; covering soldiers dying in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 500-year flood in Iowa and the Midwest, and the economic effect of more-than-$4-per-gallon gasoline. At the end of the broadcast the night he died, Russert should have gotten a five-minute goodbye and good luck.
Now, instead of all Tim all the time, “The Today Show” is back to doing segments like “Five Things You Can Do to Live Longer Now.” Four of those things seem to include not eating any of the food advertised on The Today Show. Things are back to normal. It’s good to know they were able to work through their grief so quickly.
I don't think I’ll forget my Dad so quickly.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2008, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.