Words Matter


SPECIAL: A Tribute to Tim Russert

Season 3, Ep. 19

Today, on what would have been his 70th birthday, we pay tribute to the late, great Tim Russert - Moderator of Meet the Press and NBC News Washington Bureau Chief.

Unlike many in the public eye - Tim was the same guy off camera as he was on. He was tough, but fair, - always quick with a joke and above all he was forever humbled by his success and the opportunities afforded the son of a sanitation worker from South Buffalo.

“What a country?” Tim would often marvel - he lived by the words of the pious Saint Luke - “To whom much has been given, much will be required.”

Tim believed it was his responsibility as a journalist to hold our leaders accountable - regardless of party. To ask tough, but fair questions in pursuit of the truth.

A lawyer by training, a Meet the Press interview was like a public deposition. He didn’t suffer fools and he wrote his questions so that anything short of a complete and honest answer would be met with a series of increasingly pointed follow ups. When he believed a public official was shading the truth – or worse – Tim would lean across the table and remind them, with purpose: "Senator, Madame Secretary, Mr. President – Words Matter."

That is his legacy - and for those of us who want to honor him, we must try our best to continue that mission.

So today - on what would have been his 70th birthday - we honor Tim Russert by playing his 2002 Commencement Address at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

More Episodes


President John F. Kennedy on Civil Rights

Season 4, Ep. 21
This week we highlight presidential leadership and one of the most important civil rights speeches ever delivered by a sitting American president.By June of 1963, John F. Kennedy has been president for nearly two and a half years.While Kennedy had long privately expressed his deep moral objections to the treatment of black people in American society and indicated support for New federal legislation.His public comments ranged from cautious moderate criticism to a 1950s version of “both sides-ism” but were mostly nonexistent.In June of 1963, however the man and the moment met.Alabama Governor George Wallace’s staged photo op defiance of federal law by standing in the school house doorway had lasted less than 90 minutes.On June 11th 1963 two black students were peaceful enrolled at the University of Alabama under the protection of a federalized Alabama National Guard commanded by US Marshals under the direction of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General of the United States.Kennedy’s advisors recommended and Fully expected that the president would NOT address the American people that evening.With a little less than 18 months until to the 1964 elections, the President’s legislative agenda and his political future depended upon the votes Southern Democrats in Congress and those of their politically unforgiving constituents.The President had other ideas. Kennedy saw a way to exercise moral leader on an issue where he had to that point failed. He would request Network Television airtime to address the nation on the issue of civil rights.The facts and statistics on racial inequality in the United States described by President Kennedy to the American people that evening had even never been acknowledged by a President before - much less spoken in such a detailed and direct language.In a telegram to the White House after watching the President’s remarks in Atlanta with other civil rights leaders, the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. described the address asONE OF THE MOST ELOQUENT,PROFOUND,AND UNEQUIVOCAL PLEAS FOR JUSTICE AND FREEDOM OF ALL MEN,EVER MADE BY ANY PRESIDENT.Dr King knew that Kennedy was moved by his now famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” - written just weeks before.To President Kennedy and many Americans Dr. King’s letter was more thanthan a spirited defense of civil disobedience. It was an indictment of white indifference.As you listen to the speech, you will hear Kennedy echoing King’s “Letter”The President rejects the idea that Black Americans should have to wait for equality. "Who among us," Kennedy asks the American people, "would then be content with counsels of patience and delay?"