James J. Kilpatrick Saluted

James J. KilpatrickThe National Society of Newspaper Columnists salutes James J. Kilpatrick. The University of Missouri graduate, for more than 50 years a prominent conservative political columnist, died Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010, news services reported Monday. He was 89.

Obituaries in The Washington Post and The New York Times convey a more controversial career than fans of columns who fall short of being in their 70s or 80s may have realized. The younger among us may have had his 1984 book on language The Writer’s Art as recommended reading in journalism and English classes. “The Writer’s Art” also was the title of his last syndicated column, which he ended in early 2009. Kilpatrick also co-wrote the 1979 humor book A Political Bestiary with the late liberal Sen. Eugene J. McCarthy, illustrated by the late cartoonist Jeff MacNelly.

Middle-aged fans and mid-career journalists recall Kilpatrick’s forceful words in his columns “A Conservative View” and “Covering the Courts,” even when they did not agree with him.

“Maybe, but who are we kidding? It’s CBS’s ‘Point-Counterpoint’ then Dan Ackroyd’s running impersonation of Kilpatrick that cemented him in our minds,” said NSNC President Ben Pollock. NBC’s Saturday Night Live routinely spears television’s pundits and shout-fest hosts, but the 60 Minutes mini-debate must have been its first in that line.

From 1971-78, the groundbreaking TV newsmagazine closed its hour with “Point-Counterpoint” (succeeded in 1979 with “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney”) where Kilpatrick sparred with liberal columnists Nicholas Von Hoffman and the late Shana Alexander. Their strong words on issues of the day tempered with at-times strained old-school cordiality must have made it tempting fodder for satire.

News hounds of Kilpatrick’s “Greatest Generation” era would recall that his early career supported a Southern, pro-segregationist line beginning in the early 1950s when the Oklahoma City native worked for the Richmond News Leader in Virginia. His reporting there, however, helped get a pardon for a black handyman falsely convicted of killing a policeman.

After the death of his first wife, the mother of his three sons, Kilpatrick married the liberal columnist Marianne Means, now retired, who along with them and her own children survive him. The NSNC offers its condolences.

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