June 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Colombia: Writing - Colombia: Inquirer and Mirror: New books by Tim Russert and Colombia RPCV Maureen Orth could not be more different

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Colombia: Peace Corps Colombia : The Peace Corps in Colombia: June 5, 2004: Headlines: COS - Colombia: Writing - Colombia: Inquirer and Mirror: New books by Tim Russert and Colombia RPCV Maureen Orth could not be more different

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New books by Tim Russert and Colombia RPCV Maureen Orth could not be more different

New books by Tim Russert and Colombia RPCV Maureen Orth could not be more different

New books by Tim Russert and Colombia RPCV Maureen Orth could not be more different

New books by Tim Russert and Maureen Orth could not be more different

By Marianne R. Stanton
I&M Editor

Two of the island’s prominent summer residents, Vanity Fair journalist Maureen Orth, and NBC’s moderator of “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert, set off on book tours this week promoting their new works. Their common thread is that they are married to each other. But the subjects they cover and their books could not be more different.

In “Big Russ and Me,” Russert writes about homespun values and how they were passed on in his middle class upbringing.

He talks about growing up in a working-class Irish Catholic family with three sisters in a house with one bathroom. His father, Tim Russert Sr., who got the moniker “Big Russ” when his son had grown too old and too tall to be referred to as Little Tim anymore, is a man who worked two jobs his whole life, with dinner and a nap in between, to support his family. Looking back today on those years, Russert is in awe of the strong work ethic of his father.

“There was never any complaining. Never any whining. My father just did what he had to do,” said Russert in an interview with The Inquirer and Mirror a week before the book was released.

In “Big Russ and Me,” we also meet the other adults who shaped Tim Russert by reinforcing the lessons he learned at home from his dad. And we meet some new faces who have added depth and breadth to his education.

There is Sister Lucille, one of the Sisters of Mercy who had young Tim as a student at St. Bonaventure when the family moved across town to West Seneca, just three blocks from the South Buffalo line. A fan of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s, she inspired Russert to volunteer for the politician’s presidential campaign. She also gave him his first job as a newspaperman, editing the school paper, The Bonnette, as a way to “channel his excessive energy.”

Sister Lucille, who some Nantucketers may have met as she has been Russert’s guest on Nantucket, also mentored him and made sure that his talents were developed by encouraging him to go to Canisius High School, which was a big deal for the Russert family. But Russert’s father saw education as the key to everything in life, and the family made the necessary sacrifices to ensure that opportunities offered would not be missed.

At Canisius, Russert became acquainted with Father Sturm, who taught him about discipline. Years later, when Russert was named moderator of “Meet the Press,” the lessons he learned in discipline and preparation from the Sisters of Mercy and Father Sturm would be invaluable, he said. The late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was another tremendous force in the development of the NBC newsman. Russert first met Moynihan in Buffalo during the spring of 1976 when he was ambassador to the United Nations. He went to work for Moynihan in his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from New York. When Moynihan won, Russert went to Washington with him.

“He was the smartest man I ever knew,” said Russert. Moynihan taught him to respect true intelligence, ask good questions and disagree agreeably. When viewers watch Russert on “Meet the Press,” these skills are evident. While Russert is known for holding his guests’ feet to the fire in questioning, at the same time he’s always wearing that big South Buffalo grin – being agreeable, even when he’s looking for tough answers.

Throughout the advances in his career, Russert’s heart has always stayed close to home. He calls his dad weekly and often seeks his advice before a particularly big interview. Big Russ is his son’s way of keeping touch not only with his family, but with the millions of regular people who exist outside the insulated world of Washington’s Beltway.

“Big Russ and Me” addresses nationalism and the current state of world politics with a look at life after September 11 through an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney at Camp David five days after the terrorist attacks.

The book comes full circle with reflections in the last chapters of what it means to be a father to his son today, and an atmosphere much different than the one in which Tim Russert grew up. Can he pass on to his son Luke the same solid values that his parents handed down to him, even though his son grew up in an atmosphere of privilege and access?

“It’s hard because I want to give my son whatever I can. He’s had the best seats at ball games, opportunities to meet celebrities and even a sitting president – (a picture of the Russerts with President George Bush and vice president appears in the book) – but the lesson is that while he has been privileged that does not mean he is entitled,” said Russert. And the advice seems to have taken hold.

Orth’s book, on the other hand, is all about the glitz, glamour and decadent lifestyles of the world’s privileged.

Orth’s book, “The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity Industrial Complex” came out first on May 3. It is a compilation of selected articles of Orth’s from Vanity Fair over 16 years, with insightful updates at the end of each and chapters in between that detail the author’s own observations on the rich and famous and their impact and interaction with society at large.

In Part I, “The DNA of Fame,” the contrast is between a profile of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the end of her reign and rock and roll’s down and dirty Tina Turner. Orth’s update on the PM tells about a dinner she and Russert attended on Nantucket when the Prime Minister was visiting aboard Steve Forbes’ yacht Highlander.

Orth takes a particularly close look at those celebrities who are periodically reinventing themselves. There is Madonna, of course, as well as Arianna Huffington and Susan Gutfreund. Then there are the politicians. Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams and Russian president Vladimir Putin are interviewed in a section which also contains one of Bill Clinton’s good friends, Denise Rich.

A segment of the Woody and Mia story is described in “Little Gods,” in which we also get an eyeful of Mohamed Fayed, the father of the late Princess Diana’s lover, Dodi Fayed.

Orth, who has covered the saga of Michael Jackson probably more than any other journalist in a high profile national magazine, has dedicated several chapters to his escapades at different stages of his life.

“The Importance of Being Famous: Behind the Scenes of the Celebrity Industrial Complex,” by Maureen Orth, Henry Holt and Co. $25. “Big Russ and Me,” by Tim Russert, Miramax Books, $22.95.

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Story Source: Inquirer and Mirror

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