Turns out the answer is simple, if still puzzling: I'd forgotten that Russert's wife, celebrity journalist Maureen Orth, was the author of the famous Newsweek Springsteen cover story that shared the stands with a Time cover story in October 1975.
From Dave Marsh's 135th Springsteen bio Two Hearts:
Newsweek's real intent was to discredit Springsteen and hopefully the rock business, for which the publication does not conceal its disdain. Maureen Orth, a glamour sniper recently returned from a European vacation, was assigned to research and write the story. Orth had occasionally written about rock performers before, although her style is about as compatible with rock as cannibalism is with missionary work...Orth's thesis was that Springsteen was the creation of CBS -- although she never got around to explaining how CBS had done the job, despite the "Making of a Rock Star" cover headline. According to Newsweek, Springsteen was an unlettered dummy, and [his managers] Landau and Appel were shadowy subcriminal [emphasis mine] figures manipulating gullible press people who in turn twisted a captious public around their typing figures.
Hey -- you know, if somebody had written that shit about me, I might have held a grudge. At the least. So maybe Bruce really is the living saint people like Marsh have painted him as for all these years. Or maybe he just made a few deals with the devil like any other mega-successful superstar.
Update: Just watched Bruce singing "Thunder Road" at the service on MSNBC. Let's just say I have seriously mixed feelings about this.