Ken Bode, political journalist who hosted ‘Washington Week’, dies at 83

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On June 2 at a care center in Charlotte. He was 83 years old.

His daughters, Matilda and Josie Bode, confirmed the death but said the cause was not yet known.

Scholarly but unassuming, Dr. Bode was a wise commentator on the national political scene. He combined the expertise of an academic (he had a doctorate in political science) and the passion of an activist (he had worked for liberal Senator George S. McGovern of South Dakota) with an open and easy-going manner that friends attributed to his upbringing. in a small town in Iowa, where his father ran a dairy and his mother kept the books.

Dr. Bode (pronounced boh-dee) liked to sprinkle his reporting with colorful detail and puns, such as when he described a Supreme Court vacancy noting that the seat was “one-ninth of one-third of the government”. He also showed a particular interest in “political rogues”, as his longtime producing partner Jim Connor put it, profiling “people who have gotten into trouble with the law on a large or small scale”, like a Tennessee sheriff and a Philadelphia ward boss who both had bribery convictions.

After launching his television career in the 1980s as a national political correspondent for NBC, Dr. Bode taught journalism at DePauw University, reported and wrote an Emmy-winning CNN documentary, “The Public Mind of George Bush” (1992), and led Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism for three years as dean, helping to develop the school’s broadcast news program.

But he was perhaps best known for hosting “Washington Week in Review,” as the longtime roundtable called it then. Produced by Washington-based PBS affiliate WETA, the Friday night show had earned a reputation as a quiet, thoughtful forum for public affairs discussions under moderator Paul Duke, who ran the program for two decades before Dr. Bode succeeded him in 1994.

Over the next five years, Dr. Bode sought to maintain the show’s funky spirit while adding modern touches, including remote interviews with correspondents. He was also credited with bringing more women and people of color to his roundtables, which included reporters Gwen Ifill of NBC, Michel McQueen Martin of ABC, and Mara Liasson of NPR.

“I think it’s human and real and probably very good that Bode isn’t like Paul Duke,” frequent panelist Charles McDowell Jr. of the Richmond Times-Dispatch said in a 1994 interview. with the New York Times. While Duke had an “unusual and cool image,” McDowell added, Dr. Bode was “more spirited…more willing to let a discussion pass and ignore questions and answers for a bit. I think a lot of people are very relieved about that, actually.

But Dr. Bode was ousted from the moderator’s chair in 1999, when WETA executives reportedly sought to bring more attitude and opinion to “Washington Week”, with the aim of turning the show into something like “The View” for politics. Producer Elizabeth Piersol was fired, reportedly for continuing to support him, and veteran journalist Roger Wilkins resigned in protest from the station’s board.

“If that’s the direction the show is going to go, I’m the wrong moderator anyway,” Dr. Bode told The Washington Post after his ousting. “I think they are making a mistake. … One of the things that I’m really proud of with this program is that there are times when we have three Pulitzer Prize winners sitting at this table. We bring in people who really cover the news to empty their notebooks and give perspective, not to argue. »

The station denied planning a major overhaul of “Washington Week”. Regardless, the show’s format remained largely unchanged under Dr Bode’s successor, Ifill, who said she turned down an offer to become a host while Dr Bode still held the job. .

The eldest of two sons, Kenneth Adlam Bode was born in Chicago on March 30, 1939 and grew up in Hawarden, Iowa, on the border with South Dakota. He became the first person in his family to attend college, studying philosophy and government at the University of South Dakota, where he led the school’s Young Democrat chapter and met McGovern.

After graduating in 1961, he studied political science at the University of North Carolina, earning a master’s degree in 1963 and a doctorate three years later. He taught at Michigan State University and the State University of New York at Binghamton, but found himself bored and resentful of university bureaucracy, drawn instead to liberal politics.

Dr. Bode was working for McGovern at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he attempted to round up votes from delegates on behalf of an anti-Vietnam War peace board. In his early 30s, he left academia to lead an effort to open up the Democratic Party to women, youth and minorities, after years in which a select group of white men functioned as party brokers. .

He served as research director for the McGovern-Fraser Commission, which developed rules to revise the party’s nominating process for the 1972 convention, and led a group called the Center for Political Reform to advance its efforts at the of State. “He was a central figure in the Democratic Party reform movement. … He really made a passion out of it,” said his friend Richard Cohen, a former Post columnist who worked for Dr. Bode during those years. “It was a real calling – to stir up trouble in the party.”

Dr. Bode turned to reporting during the Nixon administration, working as a political editor at the New Republic. He switched to broadcast journalism with the encouragement of an old college friend, Tom Brokaw, who helped him land a job as a correspondent with NBC News in 1979.

“He was constantly restless intellectually, about politics and about life,” Brokaw said in a phone interview. “I thought he was smart and I knew he knew a lot about politics. But I kind of kept an eye on him, because his inclination was to be more militant than what I was with. felt comfortable.

As a journalist, Dr. Bode was “an insider’s insider,” Brokaw added, with a mastery of campaign strategy that helped him cultivate relationships on both sides of the aisle. He appeared on shows such as “Meet the Press” and “Today,” where he delivered a weekly report called “Bode’s Journal,” before leaving NBC in 1989 to teach DePauw in Greencastle, Ind.

His decision to leave the network surprised even his own children, whom he had hoped to spend more time with after years of chasing after stories. “Dad,” he recalled one of his daughters, saying, “I think it’s a big downfall to go from being a national correspondent in Washington for NBC to being a teacher where Dan Quayle went at University.”

But the teaching job proved a boon, allowing her to regularly attend her children’s school and sporting events for the first time. He continued to teach while working at CNN, where he made special documentaries about the savings and loans crisis as well as presidential candidates, and after becoming dean of Medill in 1998, he was the shuttle twice a week from Evanston, Illinois to DC. , where he hosted “Washington Week”.

Dr. Bode later worked as an ombudsman for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, monitoring broadcasts for PBS and NPR, and wrote a column for the Indianapolis Star.

His marriage to Linda Yarrow ended in divorce. In 1975, he married Margo Hauff McCoy. In addition to his wife, of Charlotte, and two daughters, Matilda of Charlotte and Josie of Chicago, survivors include a brother and two grandsons.

Even as Dr. Bode reported on national politics, he sought to find people on the fringes who could offer a fresh perspective. His daughter Matilda recalled that early in the 1988 presidential campaign he interviewed a New Hampshire astrologer named Celeste, who said she supported Gary Hart, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, until what she studies her natal chart. The candidate was born under the wrong stars, she said.

In the spring of 1987, when Hart’s presidential campaign unfolded following reports that he was having an extramarital affair, his assessment seemed prescient. Dr. Bode revisited Celeste “and had her make our star charts, one for Josie, one for me,” his daughter said, “because he thought she must know something.”


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