Many people in recent weeks have praised the character and contributions to American public life of Charles Krauthammer, who died Thursday at age 68. But allow us to add a few words about the way he thought and argued as a journalist because our republic could use more like him.
Krauthammer arrived at journalism after stops in psychiatric medicine and political speech writing. Once he arrived at journalism, writing for the Washington Post, he was home. We emphasize his journalistic roots because his writing and later his commentary for Fox News embody the best traditions of a free press. He understood that his journalistic platforms were both an opportunity and an obligation.
They gave him the opportunity to witness and influence the great events of his day, such as the Reagan challenge to Soviet Communism, the Iraq war during the Bush Presidency, the election of the first black U.S. President, and the tumultuous emergence of Donald Trump’s brand of populism.
Today, everyone who has an opinion about anything can share it with the world on social media. Charles Krauthammer never forgot that he owed his readers and audience something more than on-the-fly opinion. When his admirers say he was learned, they mean that Krauthammer had deep respect for the importance of knowledge and facts. Any Krauthammer commentary was grounded in facts—whether the lessons of history, as in the Middle East, or the dynamic facts of a legislative struggle on Capitol Hill.
A typical Krauthammer column or TV appearance was a reflection or judgment on fact-based reality. Which is to say, Charles Krauthammer was old school.
What does that mean? It means that Krauthammer didn’t do snark and he didn’t sneer at opponents. He often looked impatient when others did. His humor was sly and never mean-spirited. He didn’t build his opinions out of emotional resentments. He wasn’t tribal. He refused to be any politician’s cheerleader. He was his own man.
His readers and viewers liked that. No, they loved it. They loved him for being a trustworthy voice. He had credibility, and once he had it, he made sure he never lost it.
Krauthammer did not shrink from promoting his convictions with clarity and firmness, especially in foreign affairs. He spoke often about the notion of American exceptionalism, which he called “a venerable idea.” His belief that America could be a force for good in the world was idealistic and practical. In a 2010 speech for the Fund for American Studies, he argued that World War II had left a vacuum, “which we had to fill to maintain liberty for ourselves and for the world.”
Good and honorable journalism has lost one of its great practitioners.
Appeared in the June 23, 2018, print edition.