By: Nafeesa Syeed, The Associated Press
James J. Kilpatrick, who rose from cub reporter to become one of the South’s most prominent newspaper editors and the nation’s most widely syndicated political columnist, has died. He was 89.
Kilpatrick’s wife, Marianne Means, said he died Sunday night at George Washington University Hospital. Means said he was being treated for congestive heart failure.
TV watchers in the 1970s knew Kilpatrick as the conservative half of the “Point-Counterpoint” segment of the CBS “60 Minutes.” His sparring with liberal commentator Shana Alexander was famously parodied on “Saturday Night Live.”
Means, also a former journalist, described him as “a great family man” and a cultural icon of his era.
“He was a wonderful human being,” said Means, 76. “He cultivated a public image on TV of being a cranky conservative … but he wasn’t a cranky conservative at home.”
Before retiring a couple of years ago, he worked for years for Universal Press Syndicate.
He also was the author of a dozen books and numerous magazine articles. He wrote columns on the U.S. Supreme Court and “The Writer’s Art,” on the use and abuse of the English language, which appeared in hundreds of daily newspapers.
Kilpatrick was for many years a vocal supporter of racial segregation. When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down separate but equal schools in its Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, he accused the court of repudiating the Constitution.
“If it be said now that the South be flouting the law, let it be said to the high court: you taught us how,” he wrote. Later, he would abandon the fight, saying his views had changed.
“He apologized over and over publicly and in print when he could about being on the wrong side of the segregation issue,” Means said. “He was a son of the South.”
His newspaper columns were first syndicated in 1964, and two years later Kilpatrick left the Richmond (Va.) News Leader for Washington to write columns full time. He also served as contributing editor to the National Review and had a monthly column in Nation’s Business.
He appeared as an analyst on television’s “Agronsky and Company” and was on “60 Minutes,” teamed first with liberal Nicholas Von Hoffman and then, starting in 1975, with Alexander.
The in-your-face, conservative vs. liberal format is now widely duplicated on broadcast and cable channels.
“People love to watch other people go at it. It does make for good entertainment,” Kilpatrick commented in 1981 in a Washington Post story about a similar program.
But to baby boomers, the “60 Minutes” pairing would be forever known as the source for the Dan Aykroyd-Jane Curtin “SNL” parody, in which Aykroyd dismissed Curtin’s opinions with a terse, “Jane, you ignorant slut.”
Conservatives, Kilpatrick wrote in Nation’s Business in 1978, “believe that a civilized society demands orders and classes, that men are not inherently equal, that change and reform are not identical, that in a free society men are children of God and not wards of the state.”
Kilpatrick also had a sense of whimsy, and as a young reporter he once tried to get a state lawmaker to introduce a bill outlawing the month of February.
One of his most popular columns had nothing to do with politics but how to deal with a skunk that had taken up residence beneath the office in his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. More than 500 readers sent suggestions.
Much of Kilpatrick’s later work focused on writing well.
“Be clear, be clear, be clear!” he admonished in his book “The Writer’s Art,” published in 1984. “Your image or idea may be murky but do not write murkily about it. Be murky clearly.”
Kilpatrick was born Nov. 1, 1920. The man known as “Kilpo” to his media colleagues was one of three children of an Oklahoma City lumber dealer and his wife. He showed an early penchant for letters, reading by age 4 and deciding early on he wanted to be a newsman.
He worked summers as a copyboy at the Oklahoma City Times while studying journalism at the University of Missouri.
After graduation in 1941, Kilpatrick took a job with the Richmond News Leader. In 10 years, he was the newspaper’s editor in chief.
Kilpatrick, who received numerous journalism awards, was one of the few columnists ever honored as a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Other honors included the William Allen White Award from the University of Kansas and the Carr Van Anda Award from Ohio University. Kilpatrick was also a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society and a founding trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.
His first wife, sculptor Marie Pietri, died of cancer in 1997. In 1998, Kilpatrick married Marianne Means, a longtime Washington columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
Associated Press writer Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C., contributed to this report.