Friday, December 9, 2022

Walter R. Mears, Pulitzer-winning AP reporter, dies at 87

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(*87*)

The trigger was most cancers, mentioned his daughters, Susan Mears and Stephanie Stich.

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Mr. Mears spent most of his profession at the AP, which despatched his dispatches to hundreds of newspapers, making him maybe the nation’s most generally learn political journalist, if not essentially one of the best recognized. He lined each presidential election from 1960 by means of 2000, assessing the candidates and framing the problems of the day with seasoned authority and the reflexes of a sprinter.

“It is intense, high-pressure reporting and writing that, fortunately, turned out to be my special talent,” Mr. Mears wrote in a 2003 memoir, “Deadlines Past.” “In the right circumstances, I could produce a story as fast as I could type.”

In “The Boys on the Bus,” Crouse described Mr. Mears as “a youngish man with sharp pale green eyes who smoked cigarillos” who had “worked his way up the hard way, by getting stories in fast and his facts straight every time.”

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By 1972, he was already thought to be one thing of a speed-writing savant and political oracle. Other reporters, unsure of the right way to strategy a narrative, went to him saying: “Walter, Walter, what’s our lead?”

Mr. Mears had a knack for locating a brand new wrinkle or a contemporary regional angle that may preserve his political stories from being rote recitations of a speech he had heard dozens of occasions. As quickly as a candidate began talking, he began writing.

“The entire room was erupting with clattering typewriters,” Crouse wrote, “but Mears stood out as the resident dervish. His cigar slowed him down, so he threw it away. It was hot, but he had no time to take off his blue jacket. After the first three minutes, he turned to the phone at his elbow and called the AP bureau in L.A.”

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Almost the one folks within the nation who didn’t often see Mr. Mears’s work had been residents of main cities, whose newspapers had been giant sufficient to ship their very own reporters on the highway.

His most difficult task got here in 1968, he advised NBC journalist Tim Russert in 2003. President Lyndon B. Johnson determined to not search reelection within the face of a populist marketing campaign by Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) and a late grass-roots effort by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.). On the Republican aspect, onetime vice chairman Richard M. Nixon was looking for political rehabilitation.

That 12 months, civil rights chief Martin Luther King Jr. was slain in April, adopted two months later by the assassination of Kennedy, shortly after he gained the California main. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.), who had not participated in a single main, was nominated throughout a Democratic National Convention in Chicago marred by protests and riots.

“Hubert H. Humphrey, apostle of the politics of joy,” Mr. Mears wrote, “won the Democratic presidential nomination tonight under armed guard.”

In “The Boys on the Bus” 12 months of 1972, Mr. Mears lined such failed Democratic candidates as Humphrey, Sen. Edmund S. Muskie (Maine) and Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace earlier than the nomination was claimed by Sen. George S. McGovern (S.D.). McGovern misplaced in a landslide to Nixon, who later resigned the presidency within the wake of the Watergate scandal.

While following Nixon’s marketing campaign, Mr. Mears later wrote in his memoir: “I never met so many people who later wound up in prison.”

Writing at a breakneck tempo, Mr. Mears produced reams of copy that, by means of some sort of literary alchemy, was not solely factual but in addition generally touched with notes of poetic grace. He gained his Pulitzer for his protection of the 1976 race between Republican Gerald Ford and Democrat Jimmy Carter, summing up the result in a sentence: “In the end, the improbable Democrat beat the unelected Republican.”

When he started protecting presidential politics in 1960, Mr. Mears mentioned politicians had been simple to strategy and would even invite reporters for drinks. That irreverent, cantankerous type was captured in “The Boys on the Bus,” however there was nonetheless a broadly held respect for the workplace of the presidency, amongst reporters and the general public alike.

“When I covered Goldwater and Bobby Kennedy and Nixon,” Mr. Mears advised USA Today in 2000, “when they went out to campaign, you would still see parents holding up children to see the next president of the United States.”

But the rise of cable tv, political consultants and the ever-present presence of microphones “cheapened everything,” making candidates extra guarded and voters extra cynical.

“Information has been devalued in favor of opinion,” Mr. Mears mentioned, “and the line between the two has blurred.”

Walter Robert Mears was born Jan. 11, 1935, in Lynn, Mass. His father was an government with a chemical firm, and his mom was a homemaker.

“Journalism was my only ambition, from my earliest knowledge that people work for a living,” Mr. Mears mentioned in a 1983 interview for the reference work Contemporary Authors. “When other kids talked about being firemen or ballplayers, I talked about being a reporter.”

He started working for the AP whereas nonetheless a scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont. He graduated in 1956 and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

He was primarily based in New England earlier than changing into a Washington-based political reporter in 1961. The subsequent 12 months, his first spouse, the previous Sally Danton, and their two younger youngsters, Walter Jr. and Pamela, died in a home fireplace at the household residence in Mount Vernon. Mr. Mears was injured whereas making an attempt to rescue them.

He then threw himself into his job, working 18 hours a day, finally changing into AP’s chief political author. He was briefly the Washington bureau chief of the Detroit News, solely to return to the wire service after a couple of months, as a result of “I couldn’t take the pace. It was too slow.”

After 5 years as AP’s government editor in New York, Mr. Mears returned to Washington in 1989 as political columnist. He retired after the 2000 presidential election, wherein the Supreme Court decided that Republican George W. Bush prevailed over Democrat Al Gore.

Throughout his profession, Mr. Mears was keen on the concession speeches — confession speeches — of dropping candidates. One of his favorites got here in 1976, when Arizona congressman Morris Udall misplaced a number of Democratic primaries: “The people have spoken, the bastards.”

Mr. Mears’s marriages to Joyce Lund and Carroll Ann Rambo led to divorce. His fourth spouse, journalist Fran Richardson, died in 2019. Survivors embrace two daughters from his second marriage, Susan Mears of Boulder, Colo., and Stephanie Stich of Austin; a brother; and 5 grandchildren.

In 1983, Mr. Mears revealed a ebook, “The News Business,” co-written with onetime NBC News anchor John Chancellor. He moved to Chapel Hill in 2005 and taught journalism at the University of North Carolina and Duke University.

Reflecting on his profession in a 2003 interview with NBC’s Russert, Mr. Mears confessed that he missed the joy of the marketing campaign path, the frenzy of reporting on deadline.

“I’m waiting for somebody to call and say, ‘Get on the bus,’ ” he mentioned. “I’ll go in a minute.”



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