Speechwriter became conservative columnist

January 8, 2012

Tony Blankley, a conservative author, columnist and political observer who had been a top aide to House Speaker Newt Gingrich and later headed the editorial page of the Washington Times, died Jan. 7 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in the District.

He was 63 and had cancer, his wife Lynda Davis said.

Mr. Blankley was born in England and spoke with a trace of a British accent, but he was raised in Los Angeles. As a child, he acted in television shows such as “Lassie” and “Make Room for Daddy” before developing an interest in the law and politics as a teenager.

He came to Washington early in the Reagan administration, taking a post as a press secretary to Education Secretary Terrel Bell and later joining the White House staff in the policy and speechwriting areas.

After serving Gingrich as press secretary from 1990 to 1997, Mr. Blankley remained prominent as a commentator on politics and international affairs. In addition to supervising the Washington Times editorial pages from 2002 to 2007, he wrote a column for the newspaper. He was also a mainstay of television talk shows such as “The McLaughlin Group” and the radio program “Left, Right and Center.”


In this March 7, 1995, file photo, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, center, and his press secretary, Tony Blankly, left, meet with reporters during a daily Capitol Hill news conference. (Joe Marquette/AP)

Most recently, Mr. Blankley was a senior executive with the Edelman public relations firm. At the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, he pursued research on global public diplomacy.

Mr. Blankley joined Gingrich’s staff four years before the 1994 Republican Revolution in which Gingrich became speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. During his time with Gingrich, Mr. Blankley was a spokesman and close adviser and became a colorful political personality in his own right.

“I happen to believe in the Newt star,” he once told the Los Angeles Times. “I think he has an extraordinary comprehension . . . of what’s right and wrong about America, and a practical way of taking steps that can make a real difference.”

Describing Mr. Blankley as a “sage adviser,” Gingrich credited him in a statement with helping to “develop and communicate the Contract With America,” the far-reaching policy initiative for which Gingrich, now a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, became widely known.

Mr. Blankley was described as cool and low-key under the pressures of his high-profile assignments. He made Gingrich’s case with reporters and the public during periods of great turbulence, as the speaker negotiated over welfare reform, was accused of ethical violations and was blamed in part for shutting down the federal government.

As Gingrich’s spokesman, Mr. Blankley typically tried to defuse the furors that would arise over statements such as the congressman’s suggestion that women’s roles in trench warfare were limited by “biological problems.”

In his boss’s defense, Mr. Blankley blamed the media for willfully neglecting Gingrich’s principal argument that an Information Age military actually offered “increased roles for women.”

In addition, media reports described Mr. Blankley as a key player among the Republican leaders who prodded the media to provide more intensive coverage of the Whitewater scandal, which came to enmesh President Bill Clinton.

Anthony David Blankley was born Jan. 21, 1948, in London. He moved to the United States with his family when he was 3, later becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

His father, who had been a well-placed accountant, became a Hollywood movie executive.

In addition to his television appearances as a boy, Mr. Blankley played Rod Steiger’s son in the 1956 boxing movie “The Harder They Fall.”

Mr. Blankley received a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of California at Los Angeles and a law degree from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He also received a certificate of international law from the University of London.

During his time in the Reagan administration, he was a strong advocate for “A Nation at Risk,” a 1983 report warning about the dangers created by inadequate public schools in the United States. He was introduced to Gingrich by Ed Rollins, a Republican campaign strategist, and was hired by Gingrich in 1990 when he was Republican whip.

His books included “The West’s Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?” (2005).

Survivors include his wife of 27 years, Lynda Davis of Great Falls; three children, Spencer Blankley, Trevor Blankley and Ana Blankley, all of Great Falls; and one sister.

Staff writer Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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