Death of a Journalist

David E. Rosenbaum set a standard to which all the media should aspire.

In a random murder last month, Washington lost one of the people who exemplified the best qualities, and the vital role, of our nation's free press. The victim was David E. Rosenbaum of The New York Times, my friend for 40 years.

A memorial service on Jan. 13 drew more than 700 mourners to the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where David had pursued countless stories during more than 35 years covering the intersection of the economy, politics and government policy.

His family and friends spoke of his devotion to them and of the example he set by insisting, in every instance large and small, on doing the right thing. Others spoke of his modesty. He would say, his brother Marcus recalled, that he'd had only four good ideas in his life, including using leftover baguettes to make French toast. How about marrying his wife, Ginny? "Well, that was a good idea, but it was hers," he replied.

He was energetic and laid back at the same time, and one of the funniest people I've known. He was truly unassuming, by natural inclination and professional ethic disposed to humility in his powerful role as chronicler of Washington's ways.

Rosenbaum would not hobnob with the city's power brokers, as many journalists do. He kept them at arm's length, as former Sen. David Pryor of Arkansas said during the memorial service. Pryor, who served on the Senate Finance Committee and thus at the center of David's beat, would have liked to have been his friend, but could see that David wanted to remain on his side of the room.

Urban Institute President Robert D. Reischauer, who served as director of the Congressional Budget Office during the 1990s, was another of David's sources, and he recalled that David was genuinely interested in gaining from the experts a deep understanding of the complex issues he was covering. He was after the truth, the "right answer" to the questions he asked of himself as he reported and wrote-avoiding the all-too-common journalistic technique of soliciting views from left and right, pro and con, without ever reaching a real conclusion. He was not afraid to challenge the conventional wisdom, recalled Times colleague Robin Toner.

Are such qualities exceptional among reporters today? David, in his unassuming way, would not have thought so. He loved The New York Times, believed it was home to the best journalism in the country, and did not see himself as better than his peers.

But the qualities his colleagues, competitors and sources thought worthy of praise, nonetheless, are those a skeptical public does not recognize in the media. Indeed, the partisan bloviators who pose as journalists on television talk shows and the occasional bad apple have given our craft a bad name.

David and I cut our teeth in Washington at Congressional Quarterly, where we learned to decipher the finest of print in committee reports and floor proceedings on Capitol Hill. The standards of accuracy and thoroughness we learned early were still a hallmark of David's work decades later.

I hope this magazine reflects those standards as well. Why not aspire to be as terrific as was David E. Rosenbaum?

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