Julius Duscha: Soft-Spoken, Tough, One of the First Media Critics

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 10.58.07 AMJulius Duscha started as a reporter in St. Paul, reported for the Washington Post from 1958 to 1966 and headed the Washington Journalism Center from 1968 to 1990. We met in early 1969, just after I started at the Washingtonian, and he wrote for us, doing some of the first good media stories.

Back then there was very little media criticism. In 1968 I had been a Congressional Fellow in the office of Vice President Hubert Humphrey. When President Johnson didn’t run for re-election, Humphrey became the Democratic candidate for President and I traveled with the writing press as a kind of assistant press secretary.

What struck me hanging around with the top political reporters—Jack Germond, Warren Weaver, Walter Mears, and others—was how much media gossip and criticism there was that never got printed. When I began editing the Washingtonian, Julius agreed to write about politics and the media.

His first piece, in June 1969, was billed: “Nader’s Raiders Are Back: Julius Duscha visits Ralph Nader and learns that this summer might be a hot one for Washington bureaucrats.” It was followed by Power on the Potomac columns on George Mahan (“Tightfisted Tall Texan”) and Walter Hickel (“The Fox in Charge of the Chicken Coop”).

In May 1970 he did “Our Best and Worst Local TV News Shows: Julius Duscha takes a reporter’s view of our filmy-fluffy-superbland television news shows.”

Then in July 1970 he wrote a cover story: “A Close Look at Washington Columnists.”

The best?

Evans and Novak: Well-informed, consistently interesting.

Jack Anderson: No Drew Pearson but still digs up intriguing dirt.

James J. Kilpatrick: Well written, a challenging conservative view.

Marquis Childs: Solid reporting, honest judgments.

Tom Wicker: Hard-hitting, up to date.

Hugh Sidey: Lucid, stylish writer.

Art Buchwald: Funny and devastating.

The worst?

David Lawrence: A grand old man but out of touch.

William S. White: Predictable, a dull conservative.

Roscoe and Geoffrey Drummond: Political pablum for the masses.

Charles Bartlett: A refugee from Camelot.

Joseph Alsop: Hung up on Vietnam, getting stale.

The lede of the story: “Every red-blooded Washington reporter wants to grow up to be a columnist. He then will not have to punch a time clock or scurry around to cover breaking news stories. He will be able to enjoy long lunches with cabinet members at the Sans Souci and to influence millions of Americans. And the pay is good.”

Later in the story: “The man who makes the most money is Art Buchwald, whose column appears in 450 newspapers. He earns about $125,000 a year, plus about $50,000 from the 25 or so lectures he gives each year, plus what he earns from his books (which are collections of his columns) and his recent play, Sheep on the Runway.

“Buchwald is not the only columnist who has discovered the gold in them there lecture fees. Carl Rowan is said to make more money from his extensive lecturing than he does from his column. Tom Braden and Frank Mankiewicz also depend heavily on lecture fees.”

About Evans and Novak: “The critics of Evans and Novak, and there are many, say that the two find more confidential memos and secret meetings than there are in Washington. The Evans and Novak code words are ‘secret,’ ‘private,’ ‘little-noticed,’ and ‘confidential,’ and the column itself is called Inside Report.”

In my editor’s column, I said: “Duscha is now more skeptical of the pundits and reads fewer of them, feeling that their sources and judgments are not necessarily better than those of many unheralded working reporters around town. And he often wishes that some of the columnists would occasionally admit they were bereft of ideas on the day when a column is due and simply tell their readers that they have nothing to say today.”

Julius went on to write often for the Washingtonian. He died July 2 in San Francisco at age 90. His Washington Post obit—which ran  almost three weeks after he died—got only two grafs, once again showing that if you live too long not many people will remember why you were something special.


  1. Sadly, Wikipedia, always very, very quick to record deaths, hasn’t entered Julius Duscha’s date of death yet! So to them he is still alive.

  2. Marsha Vande Berg says

    I am a very old friend of Julius and was always fond if both Priscilla and Suzanne.
    How can I reach Suzanne or one of Julius’ children?
    I would like very much to pay my respects
    Thank you

  3. Can anyone help with contact information for the Duscha family?

  4. Stan Wellborn says

    Jack – Thanks for this thoughtful tribute to Julius. I had not realized he had died. He headed the Washington Journalism Center when I got a fellowship there after I returned from Peace Corps in 1968. He was a terrific reporter and we kept in touch for many years. A sweetheart of a guy, impossible not to like.

  5. Les Gapay says

    He was a great guy, friend and mentor. I just heard he died. Besides the Washingtonian, he wrote pieces for The New York Times Magazine and others. I was a fellow at the Washington Journalism Center in 1969 when he headed it and stayed friends ever since. He liked to have lunch with people, whether in Washington or San Francisco. When I called about whether he wanted to have lunch, he always replied, “When?” I had met both his first and second wives. Julius was also a rabid baseball fan. I ran into him at an Oakland A’s game once. He wrote a book about his life that he self-published. One of the good guys.

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