Television news lost something big the day NBC News’ Tim Russert died of a heart attack at 58. Business television lost something bigger with the passing of CNBC’s Mark Haines at 65. Both became giants of their industry, in large part, due to what they didn’t do.
Both were authentic to a fault. They both asked direct questions and hung on to get direct answers for us. It’s said Russert’s interviews could be like talking to a clenched fist. Haines’ interviews, on the other hand, were more of a dry-witted slap-down—but only when deserved.
Haines’ willful disregard for television’s glamour set him apart visually from the packaged presenters we expect to see. His aww-shucks style, though, couldn’t mask his comprehension of subject. His ability to deliver it to us in terms that bridged the electronic gap made Mark Haines a trusted friend to many who never met him, including me. It’s all equally true of Russert as well.
What’s lost in the passing of these two men highlights the steady erosion of a quality important to television and radio. Compelling content is the byproduct of people speaking directly to us, not down to us; people of standards, who draw a line for principle because doing less would be letting us down. Television seems a little smaller without them. Placing a higher value on trust and respect than on popularity and profits is the stuff of giants, after all.