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Lester Tanzer; Editor at U.S. News & World Report

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page C11

Lester Tanzer, 75, a longtime Washington journalist who was managing editor of U.S. News & World Report for nine years, died Dec. 8 at his home in Arlington. He had Parkinson's disease.

After joining U.S. News as a reporter in 1964, Mr. Tanzer was the magazine's managing editor, the newsroom's second-highest position, from 1976 to 1985. He also served on the corporate board of directors of U.S. News.

Lester Tanzer "was really a superior journalist," a colleague said.

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As managing editor, Mr. Tanzer oversaw the magazine's coverage of such resounding events as the Iranian hostage crisis and the Republican revolution ushered in by the 1980 presidential election of Ronald Reagan. He also took a leading role in launching U.S. News & World Report's annual college rating guide, which has become one of its most enduring enterprises.

A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Mr. Tanzer graduated from Columbia University in 1951 and received a master's degree in journalism from Columbia the next year. He joined the Wall Street Journal in 1952 and came to the paper's Washington bureau a year later to cover federal agencies.

"I always thought it ironic," said John Gibson, who worked with Mr. Tanzer at both the Journal and U.S. News, "that he was a Bronx boy working for the Wall Street Journal, and they sent him to cover the Agriculture Department."

By the late 1950s, Mr. Tanzer was assigned to the White House by the Journal. In 1958, he accompanied Vice President Richard M. Nixon on a visit to South America, when violent demonstrations broke out in Peru and Venezuela. Protesters pelted Nixon's car with rocks and beat on the windows with their fists.

From 1959 to 1964, Mr. Tanzer was associate editor of Changing Times in Washington, after which he joined U.S. News to cover politics. In his 21 years at the weekly newsmagazine, he was known for his wry, understated humor, his writing skill and his gentle touch as an editor.

"Anybody would tell you he was really a superior journalist," said Herbert Kaplow, a former Washington correspondent for NBC and ABC News. "He worked hard, he was a very good writer, and he was very fast."

Mr. Tanzer, who was a movie buff, often opened or closed U.S. News's weekly staff meetings with a playful game of "Dead or Alive?" He would mention the names of forgotten public figures, inviting the staff to guess whether they were still living.

He could be absent-minded on occasion and was known to set his wastebasket on fire with ashes from his pipe.

One year after financier Mort Zuckerman bought U.S. News in 1984, Mr. Tanzer retired from the magazine at age 55. It was reported at the time that, as a director of the company, he received a parting settlement of $3.2 million.

In 1961, he edited "The Kennedy Circle," a book about President John F. Kennedy's Cabinet, with contributions by 14 Washington journalists, including Mary McGrory, Charles B. Seib and Hugh Sidey. He was the co-author of a 1963 book, "Brotherhood of Silence," about the anti-communist resistance in Slovakia.

After his retirement, he consulted with a newspaper in Singapore and lectured at universities on journalism and politics.

He was the founding editor in 1990 of Cosmos: A Journal of Emerging Issues, an annual publication of original essays by members of the Cosmos Club, to which Mr. Tanzer belonged. He also edited the Cosmos Club's monthly bulletin in the early 1990s.

Survivors include his wife of 55 years, Marlene Tanzer of Arlington; four sons, Jeffrey M. Tanzer of Los Angeles, Andrew W. Tanzer of Hong Kong and Stephen D. Tanzer and Murray D. Tanzer, both of New York City; and six grandchildren.

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