AP veteran reporter Don Rothberg dies at 79

Associated Press Modified: September 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm •  Published: September 21, 2012
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald M. Rothberg, a versatile and respected reporter who covered politics, the Watergate scandal and foreign affairs during a 40-year career with The Associated Press, died on Friday after a brief illness.

Rothberg, 79, cut an impressive swath through the capital landscape, blending a reporter's need-to-know instincts with an easy-to-follow writing style that minced few words, laying bare his deep understanding of the corridors of power and the people who wielded it.

Born in Dorchester, Mass., and a graduate of Boston University, Rothberg was a journalistic frequent-flyer, whose writing and reporting pursuits took him across the United States with presidents and presidential candidates and to the four corners of the world with secretaries of state James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher.

He donned many hats in the Washington newsroom — chief political reporter, special investigative team member, diplomatic correspondent, enterprise writer, columnist, news editor. His reputation often made him the go-to man on breaking stories.

"Don loved covering smoke-filled-backroom politics and wanted his stories to give readers a chair in that room," said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor. "No backslapper, he sometimes presented a crusty exterior, the tough news guy, but the barking burst of his laugh was always one of the best sounds in the newsroom."

Rothberg had a smooth but unrelenting journalistic style, and he wrapped his talent around some of the most eye-catching and history-making stories of the 20th century, including the Watergate scandal that toppled Richard M. Nixon's presidency. He was among a handful of seasoned newsroom veterans who could rightfully claim the aura of mentor without ever having to say it.

"Don was an unerring witness to the machinery of Congress in an era when great lawmakers knew when and how to cut a deal," said Jonathan P. Wolman, editor of The Detroit News and a former Washington AP chief of bureau. "He had an instinctive feel for politics — not just inside the Beltway but across the 50 states. He had an unabashed affection for the characters of public life and shared their stories generously with readers."

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