2004 PRG Courage in Journalism Award
Sarah McClendon was an American original. She was exactly the kind of journalist the country desperately needs and no one in the Washington political media shows any inclination or ability to take her place. She was not afraid to approach the issue of extraterrestrial-related phenomena. She was not afraid of anything. Below are two excellent obituaries from January of 2003.
Biography and Accomplishments
Sarah McClendon, Veteran Washington Reporter, Dies at 92
By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
As one of the few women after World War II writing about politics in the nation's capital, Ms. McClendon was pitted against discrimination, condescension and exasperation among politicians and her peers. It wasn't uncommon for her to be reproved by presidents who did not want to be bothered with her because of her sex, brusque manner and the small circulation of the papers for which she wrote.
Remembrance: Sarah McClendon
By Les Kinsolving
Posted: January 11, 2003
She died Tuesday at age 92, in the Washington Veterans Administration Medical Center where she had been hospitalized since late last month.
She was the only member of the White House Press Corps still living who covered President Franklin D. Roosevelt, of whom, she told me: "I was in absolute awe of that man; who was alternately charming – and terrifying!"
FDR was the last president of the United States who ever terrorized Sarah McClendon. She was a veteran of the first training class of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps during World War II.
When she fell in love and got married, she had to leave the WAACS and she got a job in Washington as a reporter, since she had begun writing in 1931 for the Beaumont Enterprise and the Tyler Morning Telegraph in Texas.
"She was one of the greatest newspaper women Washington ever saw," said Helen Thomas who has covered the White House for decades and is currently a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
"She walked in where angels feared to tread," Thomas said. "She had guts, she asked the questions that should have been asked, and she asked questions for people who had no voice. She made the veins stand out on President Eisenhower's forehead."
President Clinton sometimes seemed amused by McClendon: "All of us who called on her in news conferences did so with a mixture of respect and fear, I suspect, because we would never quite know what she might say," Clinton said in a statement. "I couldn't help but admire her spirit."
One of the greatest compliments I ever received came from David Gergen of U.S. News & World Report. Gergen was a highly placed consultant for both Democrat and Republican presidents.
At one White House Christmas party for the media, Gergen, who was then a Reagan counselor, told me:
"You know when we rehearse the president for those press conferences, we have been able to predict in advance 95 percent of the questions that were asked. So, we had used them with him at the rehearsal before they were actually asked at the press conference. But there were only two reporters we could never predict: Sarah McClendon and you!"
"Citizen journalist is a mission I took for myself," McClendon wrote in her 1996 book "Mr. President, Mr. President!" "It offers the best opportunity to serve one's country, the people and the public interest."
"It has been a privilege to have lived this life," she added. "I cannot wait to get out of bed each morning and start living it some more."
She told her story for the McClendon News Service, a bi-weekly newsletter, which she founded, and a radio commentary which at one point was carried by 1,200 stations.
What the Associated Press obituary did not report was Sarah's famed question of President John F. Kennedy as to why he was allowing the State Department to employ two security risks.
That caused a national furor, but she was discovered to be right. But that did not deter Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson's aide, Liz Carpenter, from what Sarah told me was persuading dozens of newspapers to cancel her column.
I had the unique experience when I was editor and later publisher of Washington Weekly ("Once-a-week-but-never-weekly") to hire Sarah who became one of the best gossip columnists I ever read.
Among other things, Sarah caught CBS' Leslie Stahl filching a story from Judy Woodruff. Sarah also reported that Stahl, on one occasion when she was in a hurry, rushed into the thin CBS White House booth. Another CBS reporter, Lem Tucker – a much smaller person – was typing. Stahl bellowed to Tucker to get up because she had a hot story. When he did not move with sufficient rapidity, Stahl slammed into Tucker and knocked him onto the floor.
Sarah also appeared with me on network television's Tom Snyder Show. Here we told the whole story about John Osborne, once of Time Magazine, later of the New Republic.
Osborne was one of the meanest bullies I have ever known since I began covering the White House in 1973. But Sarah told this network show what she found out he had done. Both of us heard Osborne, at the next White House news briefing plead with Press Secretary Ron Nessen to praise his reputation – and then he broke down in tears.
Sarah, who was baptized by my great uncle in Texas, had a superb sense of humor, along with a temper which was volcanic – and a lust for news gathering that was so inexhaustible that after she was age 90 she had friends bring her to the press briefings and presidential press conferences in a wheelchair.
I suppose that I am by no means alone among her colleagues and employers who had, on occasion, massive disagreements.
But she is one of the most unforgettable people I have ever known – and in her passing, American journalism has lost a giantess.
I will not pray that Sarah will rest in peace, for peace would be so thoroughly uncharacteristic of her.
Instead, I will pray that in God's great and loving mercy she goes from strength to strength in the life of the world to come.
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