'What It Takes' writer Cramer dies

Jan. 8, 2013 at 6:01 PM
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CHESTERTOWN, Md., Jan. 8 (UPI) -- Richard Cramer, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of the political tome "What It Takes" has died of lung cancer, his daughter said. He was 62.

Ruby Cramer said her father died Monday night at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore.

The Rochester, N.Y., native was a reporter for The Baltimore Sun and later The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he served as a Middle East correspondent from 1977 to 1984, earning a Pulitzer for his work there in 1979, The New York Times said.

Upon returning stateside, he began writing about sports, including a memorable profile of the retired baseball slugger Ted Williams for Esquire magazine, "What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?" The article shed new light on the oft-misunderstood sports icon.

"It was often said Ted would rather play ball in a lab, where fans couldn't see," Cramer wrote. "But he never blamed fans for watching him. His hate was for those who couldn't or wouldn't feel with him, his effort, his exultation, pride, rage, or sorrow."

But it was his 1,000-page, 1988 presidential campaign treatise for which Cramer is best remembered. The book stands as one of the last examples of true long-form political reporting, focusing tightly on then Vice President George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Michael Dukakis and Joe Biden. The book chronicled each man's idiosyncrasies, successes and failures on the campaign trail.

The book wasn't initially well received and sales lagged -- a disappointment for Cramer. But as campaign coverage has evolved in the digital era, it has gained in estimation as a hallmark of thorough, thoughtful political writing.

In a 2011 interview, Cramer said he was able to work in an era when political reporters had real power -- as opposed to today when access is tightly guarded, press conferences scripted and the ability to circumvent newspapers entirely with the Internet.

When writing "What It Takes," Cramer acknowledged he faced none of those troubles.

"Even if you had the wherewithal to embarrass a reporter, there was no mechanism to do it," Cramer said. "And in most cases, you might as well save your breath because the reporter had no shame anyway."

White House press secretary Jay Carney kicked off his daily briefing with reporters with high praise for Cramer.

"Before I start, it is amazing, in today's era of lightning communications, how this already seems to be a moment that's passing, but it is worth pausing to remember, perhaps in my mind, the greatest political journalist ever, and that's Richard Ben Cramer," Carney said, calling "What It Takes," "a remarkable book" and "the best read imaginable."

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