- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

Journalist Sarah McClendon, a fixture in the White House press corps for almost six decades, died Tuesday in Washington of pneumonia. She was 92.
Noted for persistent and sometimes insolent questions, Miss McClendon reported on every president from Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. In 59 years on the beat, she pestered politicians and pursued her stories with zeal and blunt focus.
Her aggressive manner annoyed established journalists in the beginning but eventually drew praise as the influential responded to her cross-examinations, which often played out at televised news conferences. Miss McClendon was determined to wrest answers from even the most recalcitrant press secretary or politician.
"All of us who ever covered the White House will remember her forever," said CNN's Judy Woodruff yesterday.
Though she was called both a journalistic pioneer and a crusader for women's rights, Miss McClendon thought of herself as shy. A taste for civic journalism won out, however. She cultivated a personality and style that often granted her a ringside seat to Washington power plays and more than one conspiracy.
"I'm not trying to be rude. I just want my questions answered," she once explained in a TV interview.
She regretted asking only one question, she said, after demanding to know why President Eisenhower spent so much time on the golf course.
"I apologized that same day in a letter," Miss McClendon said in a Washington Press Club Foundation interview.
"I realized after I asked the question that he was playing golf for his health, and he needed to be exercising," she said. "I was sorry I asked the question that way."
Born the youngest of nine children in Tyler, Texas, in 1910, Sarah Newcomb McClendon graduated from the University of Missouri journalism school. She returned to Texas in 1931 and reported for three local papers before moving to the Washington bureau of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1944.
Miss McClendon served in the Women's Army Corps and established the one-woman McClendon News Service two years later, offering both a newsletter and radio commentary eventually heard on over a thousand radio stations.
Her husband, John T. O'Brien, died during World War II, leaving her to raise a young daughter on her own.
During ensuing administrations, Miss McClendon's role as watchdog, advocate and gadfly became fixed. In 1963, she organized a group for female reporters wanting to learn the art of hard-news reporting. Still, she was not admitted to the then all-male National Press Club until 1971, and eventually served as its vice president.
"Citizen journalist is a mission I took for myself. It offers the best opportunity to serve one's country, the people and the public interest," she wrote in her 1996 memoir, "Mr. President, Mr. President! My Fifty Years of Covering the White House."
She called her life as a journalist "a privilege."
She received seven national journalism awards and served as an adviser on female veteran's affairs for the U.S. Army and the Veterans' Administration.
Miss McClendon was living in Bethesda at the time of her death and is survived by her daughter, Sally Newcomb MacDonald of Washington; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide