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Journalist And Political Aide Frank Mankiewicz Dies At 90


There was one moment in history when people around the world listened with dismay to the voice of Frank Mankiewicz.


FRANK MANKIEWICZ: Senator Robert Francis Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. today, June 6, 1968.

INSKEEP: Frank Mankiewicz was press secretary to Senator Kennedy at the time he was killed. That announcement was just one chapter in a long and varied life that took Mankiewicz, among other places, to the presidency of NPR News. Frank Mankiewicz died last night in Washington at age 90. And we're going to talk about it with NPR's David Folkenflik. Hi, David.


INSKEEP: What else should we know about Mankiewicz?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, that last name, the thing most people might have first registered about him was that he came from Hollywood royalty, you know. His father co-wrote "Citizen Kane" with a great Orson Welles. His uncle directed "All About Eve." And while he was growing up out near Hollywood, their frequent houseguests would've included the Marx Brothers, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Greta Garbo. He then served in World War II in Europe. And he was determined actually to be a newsman.

INSKEEP: Well, did he?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, he was a journalist and a lawyer. He went to work in the Kennedy Administration for the Peace Corps and then for Senator Robert Kennedy. In 1972, he helped to run George McGovern's presidential campaign. He wrote two books about Watergate, a syndicated columnist and TV commentator and then led NPR from 1977-1983. And throughout all those different chapters in his life, sort of beloved as a raconteur, a guy who loved for word play, for insight, for his keen political sense and his love for language.

INSKEEP: And we should mention he continued his consultant, communications professional, rainmaker. I've heard him described as different things. But he was somebody who was still around Washington and still working for clients. But let me ask you, David Folkenflik, about his time at NPR - those six years, 1977 to 1983. How did it go?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, it was a time during which NPR was really seeking to define itself. He had great ambitions for the fledgling network. One of the things he did was he convinced Senator Robert Byrd and others on Capitol Hill to allow NPR to do a gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate debate of the Panama Canal debates -whether or not to hand that back over as promised under the treaty. And he did other things, too. We launched MORNING EDITION. We expanded, you know, the idea of a national desk and looked to expand abroad, as well. All that brought, you know, greater audiences, greater acclaim and a lot of deficits, too.

So you look at a guy who once helped NPR really under his tenure expand and to find what it wanted to be. And yet, there's a legacy there. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting had to step in to help quell a deficit of over 6 million. And the station stepped in, too, on a more permanent basis which it once strengthened, this is a network and a system and also left a legacy that we've seen in recent years where the tensions between the station and the network have led to an astonishing turnover and the CEO office of this very network.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. The local stations on which Morning Edition and other programs are being broadcast right now. David, thank you very much.


INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Folkenflik talking with us about Frank Mankiewicz who died last night at age 90. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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