The Newseum erects a relic-filled shrine to Tim Russert.

Media criticism.
Oct. 8 2009 4:06 PM

The Newseum's Tim Russert Shrine

Come, all ye faithful, and worship the fallen newsman.

Tim Russert.
Tim Russert

The canonization of TV newsman Tim Russert, which began a year ago when he died from a heart attack at 58, will be completed next month when the Newseum, in Washington, D.C., finishes making a shrine of his NBC News office.

According to an Associated Press report, NBC News has donated the furniture from Russert's Washington office, where he was bureau chief, and his family is lending his personal effects—Buffalo Bills pennants, books, Uncle Sam figures, autographed baseballs, research binders, and one would assume, his red Swingline stapler.

Completing the shrine's religious motif will be a wooden sign Russert kept on his desk: "Thou Shalt Not Whine."

What makes Russert's mundane work-space worthy of preservation in a museum? The AP story remains mum about his accomplishments, which begin at being a pretty good interviewer and end at having a lot of celebrity friends. The AP does compare the honor to one bestowed on Edward R. Murrow, the only other journalist whose office has been amberized for display at the Newseum.

One could argue that an impressionable lad or lass observing the Murrow office might be stirred to read a book about the Blitz, Joseph McCarthy, or the history of broadcast news. But what inspiration will a glance at the Russert tableau produce? Will it prompt viewers to order a DVD of Super Bowl XXV and watch the Bills lose again? Send them off to read Big Russ and Me, Russert's book about his dad? Not to take anything away from Russert, but neither his career nor his office are worthy of commemoration, let alone veneration.

The only plausible explanation for the assembly and display of a bunch of second-class relics from the life of Tim Russert is a religious one. I don't think anybody believes that Russert—no matter how thorough some of his interviews might have been—performed any miracles during his lifetime. Nor do any of his fans regard him a religious martyr. But the adoration being expressed for Russert through his workaday artifacts strikes me as fundamentally spiritual. By making a pilgrimage to the Russert shrine, his disciples hope to prove their faith and intensify their closeness to him.

I'm not kidding. Listen to the blather NBC News President Steve Capus spewed for the AP:"When I saw the mock-up of what it was going to look like, it literally gave me chills," Capus said. "You know, I felt like we were right back in those wonderful days when Tim was still with us."

Russert's network revered and protected his image during his lifetime, too. When New York Times reporter Mark Leibovich spotted Russert on the morning of a presidential campaign debate walking through a hotel in a "sweat-drenched Buffalo Bills sweatshirt, long shorts and black rubber-soled shoes with tube socks," an official spokesman tried to declare Russert's ensemble "off the record."

With the erection of its Russert shrine, the Newseum ceases being a museum of journalism and becomes a place where journalist celebrities begin to be worshipped as miracle-producing saints. It's only a matter of time before the first visions of Russert are spotted inside the joint.

******

Ever notice how the Newseum looks like a modern cathedral from the outside? How long will it take for the Newseum to display first-class relics in the Russert shrine? Whom else should the Newseum canonize? Send nominations to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. I deify myself almost hourly on my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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