This is the first of a series of interviews, posts and features written by and about the Guys We Love – whether for their bravery, tenacity, social conscience or creative genius. We love them because they, too, are Architects of Change.
In this interview, Luke Russert, youth correspondent for NBC News and son of Tim Russert and Maureen Orth, talks with us about how his mother shaped his approach to journalism – and how she inspired his commitment to social justice.
You grew up with two journalists for parents – your father, Tim Russert, was the NBC News Washington bureau chief and moderator of “Meet the Press.” Your mother, Maureen Orth, writes for Vanity Fair.
Clearly, your father influenced your career. What was your mother’s role in influencing your approach to journalism?
My mother brings a certain kind of compassion to her work. With my father – people were intimidated. My mother really cares about her interview subjects; she really plays their ball. She doesn’t throw people over.
She is extremely respectful – extremely fair. She almost befriends the people she interviews – and she stays friends for years. I’ve really tried to do that. And I benefit because, when I take this approach, people see me not just as solely obsessed with the story, but interested in my fellow human beings.
In the media world, folks go out there and they get one-trick ponies [for their stories]. If you keep in touch, it makes the reporting more personal. My mother got some of her most exclusive leads because people felt really comfortable with her. She was honest. She was committed to telling the truth.
Your mother has a history of service. How has she inspired you to get involved with social causes?
My mother cares enormously for the less fortunate, and she has an immense love for Latin America. She was a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 60s, inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s call to action, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” She built the first school in Medellin, Colombia with a roof and a bathroom. The school (Escuela Marina Orth) has grown to be very vibrant. It is one of the first schools in Latin America to introduce the “one laptop per child” program.
As a young person – who’s been around a little bit – my interest lies closer to home. I’m particularly interested in the plight of Native Americans. In March I went to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to film a report on the situation there. It was an eye-opening experience. Right here in the U.S. there is a population that is completely ostracized. The government looks the other way. The average life expectancy on the reservation is 49 for men, 52 for women. The only place with a lower life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere is Haiti. I’d like to get involved to really drive change on the reservation, and to drive change in terms of how Native Americans are perceived in our society.
What my mother has -- that I think is really important – is great faith. She is extremely well grounded. She has a clear sense of self. Her philosophy is, “It’s not about me – it’s about helping others.” She has ambition with dignity. With that attitude, I know I too can effect positive change. I too can have a positive impact on less fortunate populations.