Edward Walsh, former Washington Post reporter, dies at 71

Edward Walsh, a former Washington Post reporter who covered the Carter White House and served as Jerusalem bureau chief in the 1980s, died Friday at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 71.

His death from lung cancer was confirmed by his wife, Michelle Walsh.

In his nearly 33-year career at The Post, Walsh covered beats that any good reporter would envy. His clips include coverage of Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel’s indictment for mail fraud, Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976 and the Iran hostage crisis in the Carter White House.

Working out of Jerusalem in the early 1980s, Walsh covered the invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982. After returning from Israel in 1985, he reported on every presidential election until his retirement from The Post in 2004. He also served as The Post’s bureau chief in Chicago. And though, by all accounts, he preferred to be reporting, he served as national political editor in the early 1990s. From 2004 to 2009, he worked as a reporter at the Oregonian of Portland.

“Ed was a classic old-time journalist,” said former executive editor Leonard Downie Jr., who described Walsh as “an energetic reporter — always trusted and respected by his sources for fairness” — and recalled his demeanor as that of the “hard-bitten, sardonic reporter.”

“He wrote it straight, reported it hard and could do it fast,” said Post reporter Dan Balz. He was a clean writer and very versatile. He could write almost anything. He didn’t seek the limelight. He just went out and did the work.”

Balz recalled Walsh reporting from Chicago during the 1976 Illinois Democratic primary when the exit polls were predicting an easy victory by Carter over Edward Kennedy — just as the first edition was closing.

“I asked him if we could call the race,” said Fred Barbash, who had been one of Walsh’s editors. “He said, ‘My standard is that I don’t declare a winner until I’ve seen a precinct report.’ Though he knew Carter had won, he had a respect for the voters and a slight skepticism about exit polls.”

During his time on the campaign trail, Walsh later had a reputation for early assessments of a candidate’s weaknesses. A running joke in The Post newsroom was that if Walsh was assigned to a primary candidate, that candidate’s days were numbered.

The unsuccessful candidacies Walsh covered included the primaries for Democrats Bruce Babbitt in 1988 and Howard Dean in 2004, along with the presidential campaigns of Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 and Republican John McCain in 2000.

Barbash recalled him as a man of stubborn convictions — and good instincts.

“If he didn’t think something was the right thing to do, he let it be known. And he was usually right,” Barbash said. “If he felt an editor was trying to inflate a story, he would make a pumping gesture 1/8like a bicycle pump3/8 with his hand. And he wouldn’t do it.”

Edward Joseph Walsh was born March 5, 1942, in Chicago. His father worked for Exxon, and his mother was a Catholic school math teacher. Walsh studied journalism and political science at Marquette University in Milwaukee.

His first reporting jobs were with the Catholic Messenger in Davenport, Iowa, and the Houston Chronicle. In 1970, he got a congressional fellowship and worked for Arizona Rep. Morris Udall and Illinois Sen. Adlai Stevenson III, both Democrats. The experience with the legislative branch would prove valuable when he came to The Post in 1971.

At The Post, he was teamed with Barbash, then a reporter, in Annapolis to cover Mandel. The two were the first to investigate Mandel’s controversial interest in a Maryland racetrack and the several favors bestowed on the governor’s wife. Mandel was convicted in 1977 of mail fraud and racketeering, a conviction overturned by President Ronald Reagan in 1980.

“The Mandel era was Runyonesque,” said Barbash. “It was fun to write about. I remember less the scandals than the characters. They were like the cast of ‘Guys and Dolls,’ and we both enjoyed it. They don’t allow people like that in politics anymore — the buddies of ‘Buddy,’ which was Mandel’s nickname.”

Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Michelle Walsh, of Portland; a son, Michael Walsh, of Portland; a daughter, Catherine Walsh, of Las Vegas; a sister, Janet Wright of Dallas; a brother, Jim Walsh, of Austin; and two granddaughters.

Maralee Schwartz, a former political editor, recalled that while Walsh might have disagreed with an editor’s decision, he was always responsive.

She recalled — with some embarrassment — an incident during the 2000 McCain campaign. Print reporters were being asked to file for the Web throughout the day. However, Wi-Fi was in its infancy, and it was impossible to file a story from a moving vehicle.

“I told him he had to get off the McCain bus to file,” she said. “He said loudly, ‘You’re ordering me off the bus.’ I could hear him over the phone asking the driver to stop. He then announced to the entire McCain press corps that he was being ordered off the bus by his editor.

“But he got off the bus and filed from the street. He always did the right thing.”

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