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Thursday, October 30, 2014
PBS Ombudsman

Stanley, Haynes, Print and PBS

I'm going to take advantage of this space to take note, briefly, of something that has nothing to do with the normal business of an ombudsman. Rather, it is to devote just a few words to record the recent passing of two very large journalistic figures of the past several decades — Stanley Karnow and Haynes Johnson — newspapermen who left a lingering impression on the television screen as well.

Karnow passed away on Jan. 27, just shy of his 88th birthday. Johnson died this past Friday. He was 81.

Both were recipients of the Pulitzer Prize. Both were colleagues of mine during many years at The Washington Post. Both were excellent reporters. In newsrooms everywhere, there are lots of good reporters who will write hundreds, even thousands, of stories during their careers. But there are also those who seem to be somehow larger than the rest of us. They become recognizable to their colleagues, able to take on the very largest themes of their time, to not only witness history but to absorb it, and with a gift for detail and story-telling that grabs you and illuminates.

Karnow and Johnson were like that. They were both print journalists but they both will be remembered also for their contributions to public television.

Karnow

Karnow served in the Army Air Corps in Asia during World War II, graduated from Harvard, studied in France, worked for Time magazine as a foreign correspondent, landed in Asia and was in South Vietnam in 1959 when the first American military advisers were killed. It was to be a long association with that country, reporting from inside and out, including the years 1965-'72 at the Post.

In 1983, Karnow published an exhaustive, widely-praised, 750-page best-seller, "Vietnam: A History." With the author as chief correspondent, it also became a PBS documentary, "Vietnam: A Television History," that was at the time, as The New York Times reported, "the most successful ever produced by public television, viewed by an average of nearly 10 million people a night through 13 episodes. It won six Emmy Awards, as well as Peabody, Polk and duPont-Columbia awards."

In 1990, Karnow was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history for another book on Southeast Asia. The book, "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines," was, as the Times described it, "a panorama of centuries of Filipino life under Spanish and American colonial rule, followed by independence under sometimes corrupt American-backed leaders." It, too, became a much-watched, three-part documentary on PBS, called "The U.S. and the Philippines: In Our Image," also narrated by Karnow.

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Johnson

Haynes Johnson won his Pulitzer in 1966 covering the civil rights struggles in Selma, Ala., for the old Washington Star. He came to the Post in 1969 and retired in 1994 after a distinguished career as one of the very best political reporters in the country. He also authored more than a dozen books.

And, he was a member of the original group of panelists on the PBS program "Washington Week in Review," as it was called when it debuted in 1967. He was a regular on that program, now called "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill," through the mid-1990s. He was also a frequent guest on the nightly PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Johnson was an extraordinary colleague to almost everyone he worked with; smart, observant, journalistically generous and warm. And he talked, in person or on television, as well as he wrote.

And Murrey and Anthony

This has been a difficult few months for the passing generation of journalists.

On March 25, two-time Pulitzer winner, long-time reporter and New York Times columnist, and frequent guest over the years on public radio and television, Anthony Lewis, passed away at 85.

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Marder

And on March 11, a close-friend at the Post and a journalistic hero to a generation of reporters, Murrey Marder, died at age 93. Marder was a print reporter from beginning to end; not much for TV, public or otherwise.

He served as a Marine combat correspondent in the South Pacific in World War II. He joined the Post in 1946 and stayed for 39 years as a reporter, foreign correspondent and chief diplomatic correspondent. He was in the middle, it seemed, of every major story of his time and his in-depth and relentless follow-up reporting on the charges made by anti-Communist crusader Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy in the 1950s is credited with a central role in bringing about McCarthy's downfall.

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Lewis

Anthony Lewis, then a reporter with the old Washington Daily News, and Philip Potter of The Baltimore Sun, along with Marder, built the reportorial case against McCarthy that would later unfold most famously on television in programs by CBS's Edward R. Murrow, which is how most people remember the ending.

Bill Kovach, a former Washington bureau chief for The New York Times and editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said Marder had been an unsung hero of journalism. "The pop historians have filled pages of praise for Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly, his fellow creator of 'See It Now,' as the ones who exposed Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy as the malicious liar that he was," Kovach wrote after Marder's death. "But the pop historians were and are wrong — dead wrong. Murrey Marder was the pathfinder."


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