Thursday, July 10, 2008

More on Tim Russert's Catholic Faith

(Hat tip: Mirror of Justice)

Terry Mattingly has an excellent post at GetReligion on how the late Tim Russert's Catholicism animated his job as newsman:
... Before his death, I had already noted that Russert was scheduled to give a June 27 lecture for the Catholic Common Ground Initiative, to be held at the Catholic University of America. The announced topic sounded a bit on the lofty, perhaps even pretentious side of things: “Learnings from the Political Process for Common Ground in the Catholic Church.” That certainly doesn’t sound like the kind of blunt, direct language that Russert favored. I immediately made plans to go or to get a copy of the talk.

After Russert’s death, NBC anchorman Brian Williams — a Catholic who briefly attended CUA — agreed to step in and speak in place of colleague. The emphasis for the event changed, as you would expect.

I am not sure that this was a “news event,” per se. But Williams certainly took on a question of interest to GetReligion readers, which is the degree to which Russert’s faith had an impact on his work in politics and then journalism. Did it help shape some of those infamous questions that he aimed at politicians, questions that often touched on the intersection of religion and politics and the events and trends that result when they are mixed?

In the column, I opened with that infamous exchange between Russert and Vice President Al Gore about abortion and the question of when life begins.

But the Gore showdown raised other questions. Was the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” asking this question because of his own Catholic beliefs? Or was Russert pressing hard because he knew that, as a U.S. senator from Tennessee, Gore had an 84 percent positive National Right to Life voting record and he wanted to hear the candidate describe his change of heart?

“Tim wore his Catholicism proudly. He talked about it all the time,” noted NBC anchor Brian Williams, who stepped in, after Russert’s death, as the featured speaker at a recent Catholic Common Ground Initiative forum in Washington, D.C.

In fact, Russert’s faith was not “an elephant in the room. It was the room. It was the room he was raised in. It was one of his great charms, as was how he dealt with it in life and in our public discourse. . . . Catholicism was his base. It was never his bias. I think that’s absolutely crucial and I will debate anyone who contends to the contrary.”

[Read the whole thing]
(emphasis added)

My Comments:
Terry's recalling the Russert-Gore exchange over when life begins reminded me of something Feddie posted shortly after Russert's death:
I did not have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Russert, but I was fortunate enough to meet once here in Macon. He spoke at Mercer University, and I was able to chat with him briefly at that event... A friend of mine, who was also part of this conversation, asked Mr. Russert, “Who is the most difficult person you’ve ever interviewed?” Without blinking, Russert said: “Al Gore. He never gives a straight answer to any of my questions.” Needless to say, I enjoyed that answer quite a bit.

Previous Pro Ecclesia posts on this subject:
God, Politics and the Making of a Joyful Warrior: Tim Russert Was a Catholic in America

Tim Russert, Best and Most Objective Newsman in America (and Devout Catholic), Dead at 58 [UPDATED]

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At 7/10/2008 3:32 PM, Blogger Bender said...

Was the host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” asking this question because of his own Catholic beliefs?

Yeah, you see, because the idea that a new individual life begins at conception is merely a matter of belief -- and religious belief at that! Nothing much more than a combination of opinion and superstition. Certainly it is not and could never be a question of truth, including scientifically verifiable truth! No, it's just a "Catholic thing." So for someone to ask such a question must be allowing themselves to be prompted by religious belief/bias.

The question is -- how did Russert view the matter? Simply a matter of sectarian belief? You believe what you believe and I'll believe what I believe and it's all good? Did he embrace that kind of relativism? Or did he see it as a matter of truth?

At 7/10/2008 3:43 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

I'm guessing the latter - that he did embrace when life begins as a verifiable truth, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Clouding the matter, of course, is the fact that he once worked as a chief policy advisor for the inventor of the "Personally opposed, but ..." Doctrine.


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