I'm reluctant to speak ill of the dead, but Tom Brokaw's tribute to Tim Russert in the New York Times Magazine's "The Lives They Lived" issue was ridiculous. The problem wasn't that Brokaw had good things to say about the late Russert; the two men were friends and it's only right that Brokaw would choose to remember his friend warmly. Rather, the problem with the piece was that, in Brokaw's insistence that Russert was to politics as John Madden is to football, it was little more than one multimillionaire TV anchor hailing the "working-class wisdom" of another multimillionaire TV anchor.

Worst of all, Brokaw hailed Russert's working-class wisdom at the expense of others. To wit:

Tim had a special appreciation of Madden’s powers of observation, like Madden’s admonition to hotel guests not to sleep on the side the bed where the telephone is located because the mattress is more likely to sag from overuse. Tim believed the small, telling detail can say a great deal about the larger failings or vulnerabilities of a politician.

A few years ago, he asked me to check on the prospects of a farm-state candidate for governor who spent part of every year on Nantucket and adopted some of the local customs. I called a friend in the candidate’s state to get an assessment, and he said simply, “He doesn’t wear socks.” Tim roared when I passed along the observation, and we often used that expression — “He doesn’t wear socks” — as shorthand for politicians who were tone-deaf. 

[snip]

Tim and I spent a lot of time together during our 25 years of friendship. I’ve met John Madden only once, before a Giants-Eagles game at the Meadowlands. But in that brief encounter I noticed another common characteristic between these two masters of their game: They both wore socks.

Alas, as this picture of Russert on Nantucket (where he summered) shows, not always:


--Jason Zengerle