Walter Mears

Walter R. Mears (born January 11, 1935)[1] is an American journalist, author, and teacher. He was one of the reporters featured in the 1973 book The Boys on the Bus,[2] who covered the 1972 presidential election between Richard Nixon and George McGovern. He won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for his coverage of the 1976 Presidential campaign and election.[3] Mears retired from his career as a political reporter, editor, and news executive in 2001. In 2016 he joined the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, at Duke University, as a volunteer instructor, teaching classes on election campaigns; he had previously taught undergraduate classes in journalism.[4]

Walter Mears
Born (1935-01-11) January 11, 1935 (age 86)
EducationMiddlebury College
EmployerAssociated Press
Spouse(s)Frances "Fran" Richardson


Mears graduated from Middlebury College in 1956 and received an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1977. He served on the Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1984 and was the recipient of the Alumni Award in 2011.[5] Mears served as the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Campus, and referred to his four years of work with the paper as his "journalism school."[6]


Mears began working as a newsman with the Associated Press (AP) immediately after graduation in 1956.[6] He reported on national politics from 1960 to 2001. Throughout his career in journalism, he covered 11 presidential elections, and his stories have appeared in almost every American newspaper.[5] Mears was such a well known and established news reporter that he was featured in Doonesbury comics; one Trudeau comic strip, published on February 5, 1973, depicted Mears questioning Richard Nixon's so-called "Energy Czar," John A. Love, during the embargo and oil crisis.[7][5] Mears retired from the newspaper business in 2001. Occasionally, he publishes articles on his AP blog.

Mears authored the book Deadlines Past: Forty Years of Presidential Campaigning: A Reporter's Story, which was published in 2003.[2] He co-authored two more books with a colleague, John William Chancellor: The News Business (1993) and The New News Business: A Guide to Writing and Reporting (1995). He also worked for two years with reporters of the Associated Press in writing Breaking News: How the Associated Press Has Covered War, Peace and Everything Else (2004).[8]

He has won several awards over the course of his career. In 1973 he won the Associated Press Managing Editors Associations Top Performance Award, and in 1986 he won the Associated Press, Robert R. Eunson Distinguished Journalist Award.[5] In 1977, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting,[3] the AP awarded him a membership to the Burning Tree Club.[9]

Political and philosophical viewsEdit

Mears believed the newspaper business had a duty to report facts and maintain a neutral point of view; he believed that personal opinions had no place in good journalism. Even after retiring, he continued to encourage transparent campaign coverage and spoke about the need for good background and fact checking, especially in the digital age of reporting. He believed that "print news is the best place to look for information."[10]

In 2004, two questions were directed to Mears during the first session of a bloggers conference sponsored by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.[11] The questioner, David Weinberger, wanted to know whom Mears supported for president; Mears refused to say, asking "How could you trust what I write?"[12] In response, Mears was asked how could he be trusted in what he writes about on his blog.[12] Mears responded to the second question in his AP blog by speaking to the importance of transparency and ethics in campaign reporting. He decried the lack of content and accuracy in much of today's reporting. He wrote about the need to "get the facts straight," and, while he acknowledged the difference and difficulties in reporting between his days and now, he implicitly responded to the question asked by Weinberger by explaining how to earn trust.[13] Mears' point in the blog was emphasized by Bill Mitchell and Bob Steel in a report for The Poynter Institute after the conference.[14]

During his years of reporting and after, Mears was critical of all candidates, no matter their political affiliation. Earlier in 2004, speaking at Montgomery College's Lycem series, he called the political conventions "all show and no decision." During a question-and-answer session, he said the word media "had become convoluted in the context of 24-hour cable news and the 'echo chamber' it [had] created."[15]

In a 2016 interview for Duke Today, when questioned about "getting the journalism that our democracy needs," Mears responded:

"You can always make it better. But I think the information that the AP and other solid outlets are delivering is there, it's available. The problem is that you can write the best story in the world and if no one reads it, what difference does it make? And as I say, the attention spans have decreased to fit the size of the tweet. And it takes time to read an 800-word explanation of where a candidate stands on a particularly difficult issue. I think too many of us don't take the time to find out the facts and accept as the truth something that someone tells them. They accept opinion as truth".

In the same interview, he was questioned about the presidential election campaign. Mears remained analytical in his responses. When asked about Trump speeches and if they reminded of him of an earlier era, Mears compared him to populist senator Huey Long, citing historical comparisons, rather than conjecture and opinion, by saying:[10]

"If you want to go back to another time when someone matched Trump in simple answers – 'I'll fix this for you' – you have to go all the way back to Huey Long. The Roosevelt people were concerned about Long running for president back in 1936. He was assassinated before he got there, but he had much of the same approach that Trump does. You know, don't ask a lot of questions. I'll make every man a king. And that's Donald Trump".

Huey Long had popular support for and considered running for president against FDR in 1936.[16]

In 2019, Mears described his views on the impeachment hearings of Donald Trump in the context of previous hearings of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.[17]

Personal lifeEdit

Mears was born in Lynn, Massachusetts. Mears' first wife and children died in a house fire on Christmas Eve in the early 1960s.[2] With his second wife he had two daughters, Stephanie and Susan. He met his third wife, Frances "Fran" Richardson, in 1994.[18] Fran had one daughter, had one daughter, Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes. Frances was also a reporter, editor, and bureau chief with the Associated Press and later Gannett news service.[18] Following Mears' retirement in 2001, the couple moved to Arlington, Virginia. After his book Deadlines Past was published, they left the Washington, D.C. area in 2005 and moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, retiring to Governors Club, a private community, seeking a more relaxed lifestyle.[8] Frances died from cancer in 2019.[18]


  1. ^ Fischer, Heinz-Dietrich; Fischer, Erika J. (August 2, 2011). National Reporting 1941-1986: From Labor Conflicts to the Challenger Disaster. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-097231-3.
  2. ^ a b c Crouse, Timothy (October 12, 1972). "The Boys on the Bus". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  3. ^ a b "Walter Mears of Associated Press". Pulitzer Prize. Retrieved August 31, 2020.
  4. ^ "Letters to OLLI". OLLI at Duke Member Website. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d "Achievement Award Winners 2011". Middlebury. June 28, 2011. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  6. ^ a b Garber, Nick. "Pulitzer Winner Walter Mears '56 Discusses Career, Journalism in Trump Era". The Middlebury Campus. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  7. ^ Trudeau, Garry (February 5, 1974). "Doonesbury by Garry Trudeau for February 05, 1974". GoComics. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  8. ^ a b "Why We Retired in Chapel Hill". Chapel Hill Magazine. July 31, 2017. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  9. ^ "Cape Codder Gets PGA Award". May 12, 2015. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  10. ^ a b "AP News Veteran Walter Mears Leads OLLI Politics Class, Sees Some Old Patterns". Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  11. ^ "Blogging, Journalism & Credibility: Battleground and Common Ground". Berkman Klein Center. July 20, 2019. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  12. ^ a b MacKinnon, Rebecca (2005). Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility: Battleground and Common Ground (PDF) (Report). Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society. p. 64. Retrieved September 16, 2020.
  13. ^ "With Deadlines Past, a Journalist Observes the Coverage". Nieman Reports. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  14. ^ "Earn Your Own Trust, Roll Your Own Ethics, Transparency and Beyond". Poynter. February 8, 2005. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  15. ^ Hutton, Lauren (October 20, 2004). "Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist discusses ins and outs of Kerry-Bush campaign". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  16. ^ "FDR And The Kingfish". American Heritage. Archived from the original on June 26, 2020.
  17. ^ "Walter Mears on the Impeachment Hearings: High Drama or Political Argument?". About Editing and Writing. November 23, 2019. Retrieved September 2, 2020.
  18. ^ a b c "Frances R. Mears, former AP bureau chief in Baltimore, dies". Retrieved September 1, 2020.

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