This morning on the Today show, Matt Lauer asked a health expert whether Tim Russert’s death had caused a rush of middle-aged men to check out their heart health. The expert sort of hemmed and hawed, and then talked about how everyone should get checkups. It’s no surprise Lauer would ask: The death of the Meet the Press host rocked his home network, NBC, and the political media across the country. And yesterday, ABC News producer Michael Bicks chronicled in the Times how he himself went to the hospital after having heart-attack symptoms because he had Tim Russert on his mind. It turned out that decision may have saved his life. “Because at the right moment I thought of Tim Russert, I am one of the lucky ones,” he wrote. “It is a debt I can never repay.”
Okay. We’re happy for Bicks and all, but is this maybe getting a little out of hand? The blanket coverage of Russert’s death and memorial service and the long television tribute montages that some critics thought were too much (Jack Shafer accused the media of canonizing him as a saint) — all that, we could understand. Russert’s death was jarring: He was a rare figure in political journalism that everybody liked. But now it seems like we’re moving on from sainthood and turning him into a miracle-working angel. It started with the rainbow over Washington during his memorial service. We know he was Catholic, a wonderful man, and friends with the Pope — but we don’t see any altars set up to Russert. Yet.
A journalist like Michael Bicks would logically have Russert on his mind when he had mysterious pains. As would a Washington resident like the woman who had a similar experience, chronicled in the Washington Express. But let’s be honest — hordes of men across the country rushing to the hospital to get checked out? That seems like a little bit of a stretch. Maybe if the president died. Or Brad Pitt or Donovan McNabb. We can’t help but think some journalists are making way too much of this because they’re having trouble letting go. For Tim’s sake, isn’t it time to just let his accomplishments speak for him? The ones from while he was alive, we mean.