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Covering Nixon to the Space Race, revered journalist dies at 86

WASHINGTON--Harry F. Rosenthal, an Associated Press writer who covered America's golden age of space exploration, presidents back to Harry Truman and whatever caught his impish eye in the stuffy halls of power, has died. He was 86.

He died Thursday at home in Kansas City, Missouri, his daughter, Lesli Mulligan, said.

From the start, Rosenthal was more than a top-tier wire service newsman, fast and accurate. He was a wordsmith. He sweated the details, then turned those details into irresistible prose. In the old days when newsrooms still reeked of cigarettes, he would smoke and pace and fret while pondering just how he wanted to tell a story.

“Writing bugs me,” he said, “but it's the only way I like to make a living.”

Curiosity, Rosenthal believed, was the essence of good reporting.

“My own approach to an interview is the same one I had at 16 when I went to my first burlesque show,” he said. “I had an idea of what to expect but I wanted to see for myself.”

Rosenthal strolled with Truman in Independence, Missouri, as the retired president reflected on his decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan at the end of World War II. He covered Dwight Eisenhower back home in Kansas, Richard Nixon in his downfall and death, and presidents through to Bill Clinton before he retired from the AP in 1997.

He said then he wished he could write the human story of five more decades. He had a nose for the kind of story people wanted to read.

“We call them 'Hey, Martha' stories,” Rosenthal said. “Which is, the guy sitting at the breakfast table and saying, 'Hey, Martha, did you see this?' You want a story with impact.”

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This Oct. 28, 1992 photo shows Associated Press newsman and columnist Harry Rosenthal in Washington, D.C.

(AP)

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