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Tim Russert on His New Book 'Wisdom of Our Fathers'

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," May 23, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Joining us now, the author of "Wisdom of our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons," NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of "Meet the Press," and now in a third job, selling a book, Tim Russert.

You've got a couple of jobs. You're pretty busy.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST, "MEET THE PRESS": Great to be here.

COLMES: Thanks very much for being here. Little you know, your first book as an outgrowth would have this second book, right?

RUSSERT: I had no idea. As I went around the country, talking about "Big Russ and Me," people interpreted it as an invitation to talk about their dad. They'd say, "Big Russ is your guy, but let me tell you about Big Mike, and Big Stan, and Big Irv, and Big Manuel..."

COLMES: Did that surprise you?

RUSSERT: It did. I thought Irish Catholics in Buffalo or Long Island would like the book and they'd recognize a common way of life and upbringing, but it didn't matter what geographic area, ethnic group, religious group. They all wanted to talk about their dad.

It's the one thing that they could embrace and say, you know, everyone knows about the relationship with their mom. We came from the womb, a maternal instinct. When we're hurt, we go to see our mom. But our dads were different. They were a different kind of relationships. Most dads were not emotional, were not very communicative or talkative, but we knew they loved us by their hard work, the eloquence of their hard work, I called it.

COLMES: What you talked about here, those little moments, the ones that you even said you may have even forgotten with your own son, Luke, right, those little moments that add up that you don't even think about.

RUSSERT: No one, Alan, wrote me a letter about a big vacation, or a new TV, or any material gift. It was all — "I was a stutterer, and every time I started to stutter, my dad would put his arm around me, and squeeze my hand, and I'd stop stuttering."

Or, "I'd build a little box, and I'd sit with my little daughter, and say, 'Put your worries in this box and, two weeks from now, we'll come look at them,' and they wouldn't matter anymore." Dads teach lessons.

A friend of mine from Oklahoma sent me an e-mail this morning saying: You know what this is all about, it's better to see a sermon than to hear a sermon. Our dads let us watch them live their life, and if we learned to behave the way they did, if we learned the true lessons of life, this is a road map for new and old parents, how to get it right, how to teach your kid, because they're watching you every second of the day.

COLMES: You know what's interesting, is a number of stories where the father is relatively emotionless, but there's that one moment, whether the son is going off to Vietnam and playing the mother, that he's actually going to a missile base in Guam, so the mother feels OK?

RUSSERT: The first story in the book. And then the son looked up and saw the big tear coming down. Or the girl, young daughter whose boyfriend broke up with her, she was devastated. And her dad said, you know, "If I could, I love you so much, I'd marry you."

HANNITY: By the way, that was one of my favorites. That was — I've got to be honest. I shared the book with a number of people who work on my radio show. And, without exception, they all said the same thing. They tear up reading your book. So you're having a pretty profound impact here. I mean, this is universal about your love for your father and that connection.

RUSSERT: And what they taught us, Sean, and that's the key. You know, William Murray wrote a really wonderful little note. He said in the last chapter I called "Father Knows Best," Big Russ, my dad, his favorite expression is, "What a country." He's eating a hot dog, drinking a cup of coffee, or watching a play...

HANNITY: Or drinking a beer.

RUSSERT: Or a cold beer, Genesee, but William Murray said, "You know, when I was a boy, my dad was the boss. Now I have a son, and he's the boss. When in the hell do I get to be the boss?"

But that's smart, when you think about it. It's rather instinctive. They all find in this book all the letters, all the lessons. There's a silent goodness in these men, and they communicate that silent goodness through their hard work, their sacrifice, and their devotion, not through their words.

HANNITY: You revealed on both ends of your life personal stories. You tell the story about your dad saying how he loves you and when he hugged you. And then you talk about this great story — I think it was probably maybe the most telling in the book — about that father-son relationship with your own son and a tattoo.

RUSSERT: When I wrote "Big Russ" in May of 2004, at Thanksgiving, my dad hugged me and told me he loved me for the first time. He felt his life had been affirmed. He felt he was now able to communicate, in a word, because I had said in my book, "I wish to hell he'd tell me sometimes what I knew he felt."

Christmas Eve, 2004, we went to midnight mass, came home and Luke was getting ready for bed. And my wife, Maureen, came running in and said, "You won't believe it. He's got a tattoo." I said, "A tattoo? I talked to him about that, about the physical consequences. He promised he — Luke, get in here." "No." "What do you mean, no? Get in here. No, what — lift up your arm."

Arms locked. "No." I said, "Lift up your arm." He lifts up his arm, and there in a little purple stencil print, TJR. My dad's name is Timothy Joseph Russert. My name is Timothy John Russert. And he said, after I read your book, I always wanted you and grandpa on my side.

HANNITY: That's tough.

RUSSERT: And, man, I fell in the chair, sobbed uncontrollably. My wife's crying. Luke's crying. I said, "You know, this is the nicest tattoo I've ever seen, but don't get another one, you little rascal."

HANNITY: That's it, right?

RUSSERT: But this has been a journey so different than the political interviews on "Meet the Press." This is one that I go — there's not a day that goes by where I don't get a phone call, an e-mail, a letter, a handshake saying, "Thanks for writing your book. Can I tell you about my dad? Can I tell you what he meant to me? Can I tell you what he taught me?" And it helps us get it right, because what are our kids going to say about us? What are they going to write about?

HANNITY: That may be a problem, Tim. We've got to be careful.

RUSSERT: But it's true.

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: It's true, absolutely.

RUSSERT: What do we stand for? What do we pass on to them?

COLMES: We're going to come back in a second with Tim Russert, more to talk about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

HANNITY: We continue now with the author of "Wisdom of Our Fathers: Lessons and Letters from Daughters and Sons." Tim Russert, of course, the host of "Meet the Press," is with us.

I really love this book for a lot of different reasons, because it really, really hits home about that connection with your father. When you wrote your first book, I kept telling you I felt like Big Russ was a lot like Big Hugh, which was my dad. And especially when he was talking about wrapping up the glass so the guys don't get hurt.

RUSSERT: For the garbage men.

HANNITY: The garbage men.

RUSSERT: Wrap it in a shoebox with tape so they don't cut their hands.

HANNITY: So they don't cut their hands. Thoughtful, and that generation that fought in World War II.

RUSSERT: Yes.

HANNITY: My dad signed up like your dad.

RUSSERT: Yes.

HANNITY: Amazing group of people. One of the things you say, you saw a big difference between the letters between boys and girls, men and women, to you.

RUSSERT: Sean, unbelievable. I have three sisters and they had a much different relationship with my dad than I had. The time I remember my dad being young to me was when my older sister got married and he danced at the wedding, with his Aqua Velva all over him. He was having the time of his life. Dad's idea of a successful night was all you could want to eat or drink. And that's what he did.

But the daughters wrote with such passion, such emotion. And they really are daddy's girls. So many of them said I had a nickname, Kit-cat or Wilma, and only dad can call me that name. Only Dad. That was reserved for him. One Judith Brady, her dad, Owen...

HANNITY: This is an incredible story.

RUSSERT: Her dad, Owen, was a fireman and a policeman. And he was dying, and she literally got in bed with him and she said, "Dad, I just want to you know I love you. I have always loved you."

And he reached up with his frail arm and said, "and I always knew."

What a way for a father and a daughter to say goodbye to each other, both fulfilled, both knowing that they had lived for each other. There's no more important lesson.

HANNITY: You know, one of the things that you kept saying in the book, and you almost conclude, is that — and it was a common theme in the letters. They're not super dads. It's not about material things. I think you used the term silent, modest men, the way people would describe them.

Isn't it really — they're the salt of the earth people, you know, the people that get up, make this country great, provide the goods and services for everybody else, serving their fellow man — men and women, serving their families. And maybe they don't always say the words "I love you" but it's there.

RUSSERT: They don't have to. They saved this country, and they built this country. The people who get up — and think about September 11, 2001. We've redefined, thank God, modern-day heroism. The guys who were going up the staircase are the real heroes.

HANNITY: Absolutely.

RUSSERT: And it's lesson after lesson, when you read this book you say to yourself, that's how you do it. My kid's watching me. And it's not special time, quality time. Give it up. You have to be there at the most spontaneous moments, when your kid leans over and says, "Dad, what's that called?" Or "Dad, have you ever thought about going on a spaceship?" Or "Dad, do you think I could someday be president of the United States? Or I could be a cowboy?" Whatever it is.

HANNITY: Close to "Meet the Press". Who knows?

RUSSERT: Give me a few more years.

COLMES: This is — it's a tearjerker, it really is. A couple of things I want to talk to you about.

RUSSERT: Sure.

COLMES: UPI reporting that Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the Plame case, said in court papers that Scooter Libby was told in 2003 that Valerie Plame was a classified CIA employee by his boss, Dick Cheney, and previously it was claimed that he was told about Plame by you.

RUSSERT: Yes.

COLMES: Which is the truth? Do you have any idea?

RUSSERT: Well, all I know is what I know personally. That Scooter Libby called me in June to complain about something that had been on a cable TV show. I didn't know who Valerie Plame was until I read Bob Novak's column.

COLMES: You had no idea? Was it known in Washington she was CIA?

RUSSERT: If it was, I missed it. I'll tell you that. And NBC didn't have the story. I wish we had.

COLMES: Yes.

RUSSERT: And now that I read what Mr. Fitzgerald has presented to the court, that not only the vice president, there are at least eight other officials in the government who had conversations with Scooter Libby about Valerie Plame.

COLMES: Right.

RUSSERT: So I'm pretty low down on the food chain.

COLMES: Right.

RUSSERT: And I wish I had known.

COLMES: Was it your sense that he found that out from you before anybody else?

RUSSERT: How could he? I didn't know.

COLMES: Yes.

RUSSERT: If I had known who she was — you know, let me tell you. And I should say Libby never told me. I wish he had, because I would have called in my correspondents. I would have — as it turned out, after Libby called me to complain about what was on the show, I called the president of NBC News saying expect a call from Libby. He's furious about what he saw on TV. End of subject.

COLMES: Right. So you never told him. That's not what happened.

RUSSERT: I can't tell anyone what I didn't know myself.

COLMES: Who's the one guest or two or three you'd love to get on "Meet the Press" you haven't had?

RUSSERT: Well, I really wanted Pope John Paul II, and he had promised me, actually, in writing that he would come on, and then he got very sick. But I would have loved that. Now, I would very much like to have Hillary Rodham Clinton, who's running for reelection here. And I would like to have Vice President Cheney, who I haven't seen in three years on "Meet the Press."

COLMES: Do you ever — when they say no, do you have a sense of why they say no? The timing isn't right?

RUSSERT: How'd you know that? The timing isn't right. But eventually everyone comes on "Meet the Press."

COLMES: You make it not only must-see TV but must-do TV. They have to come through your portals to speak to the public.

RUSSERT: And I think if they want to communicate with the American people in a serious and thoughtful way, they'll be given a chance to finish their answers. They'll be asked tough questions, but it is something that is persistent, but civil.

HANNITY: Tim, I'll know why they don't come. Because, and I'm going to do this the next time you're on. In 1972, Tim Russert, you said the following. You said this today, and you put it up on the screen and you're sitting there, what do I say?

RUSSERT: In 1972 I had a Fu Manchu.

COLMES: Can we show that clip?

RUSSERT: I mean, my Joe Namath look-alike.

HANNITY: Great. It's a terrific book. Tim Russert, I really enjoyed it. And it shows that special relationship. Congratulations.

RUSSERT: Thank you.

HANNITY: I'm predicting No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

RUSSERT: Thank you.

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