The Son Also Rises

Luke Russert emerges out from the shadows of his parents

Luke Russert has “LK 12:48” tattooed on his inner bicep. Flip to that passage in the Bible and you’ll find, “To whom much is given, much will be expected.” Indeed, as the son of two revered journalists—the late Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert and Vanity Fair special correspondent Maureen Orth—there was much expected of Luke Russert when he entered the family business in 2008. After the sudden death of his father, Russert got hired fresh out of Boston College as a correspondent for NBC News covering the youth vote for the election. Critics were quick to lambast him, claiming that nepotism won him his job. Yet, Russert remained undeterred, drawing upon years of wisdom passed down from his parents to define himself in the industry. Today he’s a newsman in his own right.

This August, Russert and his mother will host the annual Summer Groove event to benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Nantucket. Since first coming to the island in 1993, Orth and her late husband saw the importance of giving back to this community. Now their son is continuing that legacy. N Magazine spoke with Luke Russert before the August 16th event.

N Magazine: Tell us about this year’s Summer Groove. What does the event mean to you?
Russert: My father loved Nantucket. The Summer Groove is all about giving back in his memory. It is written on his mass card, “There’s no exercise better for the human heart than reaching down to lift up another person.” That’s what the Summer Groove is about. Many of us who come to Nantucket are quite blessed and fortunate. The Groove is a night of dancing and fun, but also to honor and give back to those who make Nantucket function.

N Magazine: The Groove benefits the Boys & Girls Club. Why is the Club such a vital institution?
Russert: Fundamentally, the Boys and Girls Clubs around the country are vital because they provide a safe place for kids to play, learn and simply stay when their parents can’t be around. In this day and age, when so many people are struggling to get by, the club offers working parents the chance to get those extra hours to help provide for their family. On top of that, the values taught at the club—honesty, kindness, friendship—are so important for young people.

N Magazine: Regarding your own parents, can you describe the pressure you felt entering the “family business?”
Russert: I never felt any pressure from either of my parents to get into media or journalism. That being said, I always had an interest in the big news stories of the day, as that is what was discussed around my dinner table at night. I’d sit for hours and listen to my parents talk about all kinds of issues—global, political, cultural, et cetera. I think that ignited a pas- sion at an early age that continues to this day.

N Magazine: How have you distinguished yourself in the industry?
Russert: Because I came into the business in a unique way after my father passed, I had to spend a lot of time proving that I belong. I knew from the start it would be like that, but I feel my approach of doing copious amounts of research and asking tough, fair questions has helped me get to a point where people know I’m serious and ready to do the job. I try to be as authentic as possible because that’s where I believe the audience is today, especially Millennials. It’s no longer satisfactory to simply do a two-minute piece saying, “One side said this, the other that and back to you.” People want the truth and they want context. I try and provide that even if it ruffles some feathers.

N Magazine: Speaking of ruffling some feathers, what was your takeaway from the whole Nancy Pelosi question affair?
Russert: I’ll just say this, my question was born out of a conversation I had with a younger democratic member of Congress before that press conference. It turned into a debate about sexism after Mrs. Pelosi answered it in the manner she did. However, the question in its entirety was, “Some members of your caucus say the fact that you’re staying on, Mr. Hoyer (her Deputy Whip) and Mr. Clyburn (number three) all over the age of seventy, prohibits the party from getting some new blood.”
If you look at the House democratic leadership—they’re all over seventy to this day. On the GOP side, they’re mainly hovering at fifty, with Speaker Boehner being in his early sixties. Democrats stress that they’re the party of young people, why don’t younger members lead the House Democratic Caucus? I think that’s a fair question.

N Magazine: What surprised you most when you started getting into the trenches of politics?
Russert: I always knew how combative and partisan it was but I never knew how much money was actually involved. Granted I started shortly before the Citizens United case, which opened up the spigots to big time political spend- ing. But still it amazes me that every single group in America is spending money in some way in Washington. While it may not be the most surprising thing to the general public, when you see it up close it’s wild. Probably not what James Madison envisioned when he wrote the Constitution.

N Magazine: What major problems can be solved in Washington?
Russert: Well too much money in politics is a problem, but one that could be solved easily is the issue of gerrymandering. The way most congressional districts are drawn up in the United States is absurd. Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of this and it makes for unfairly tilted representation in the House. Look at the congressional maps of Maryland, North Carolina and Pennsylvania to name a few—they stifle democracy. All congressional districts should be created fairly by an independent commission. That would end a lot of partisanship in the House, be- cause more people would run for the middle, not the extreme left or right.

N Magazine: Can you share some of your fondest memories of being on the island as a kid?
Russert: Many come to mind but I can think of no happier memory than watching a Madaket sunset with my mom and dad from the porch of the house we rented, the old “Wheel House” on Massachusetts Ave. I’d also say crabbing and turtling out there was a blast.
Lastly, when I was eighteen, I delivered beer and furniture for Cape Cod Express. That was tough work but rewarding work. I learned a lot about life hanging out with the grisly, weathered delivery guys. I also learned it was great to be eighteen and around a bonfire at night out near Gibbs Pond.

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