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KENNETH H. BACON, 64

Kenneth H. Bacon Dies; Ex-Reporter and Pentagon Spokesman Advocated for Refugees

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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 16, 2009

Kenneth H. Bacon, 64, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who was top spokesman at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration and later became a prominent advocate on behalf of international refugees, died Aug. 15 of melanoma at his vacation home on Block Island, R.I. His primary residence was in Washington.

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Mr. Bacon had spent 25 years at the Journal's Washington bureau before becoming the chief spokesman at the Pentagon in 1994, working under then-Defense Secretary William J. Perry. He held the position of assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and stayed in his post when William S. Cohen was named defense secretary in December 1996.

In daily briefings, Mr. Bacon kept reporters informed of developments in civil wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and other military matters. He was known for his bow ties and his cultivated, straight-arrow manner.

On a visit to the Balkans in 1999, Mr. Bacon saw firsthand the human toll of warfare, as hundreds of thousands of people were driven from their homes with no place to turn.

"I had never seen refugees before, never fully appreciated the sheer magnitude of one million people leaving their homes and needing food, shelter and medical care," he told the New York Times in 2001.

After leaving the Pentagon in 2001, Mr. Bacon became president of the D.C.-based advocacy group Refugees International and emerged as one of the strongest voices for the dispossessed around the globe. His organization, which accepts no funding from governments or the United Nations, estimates that there are 12 million international refugees.

Mr. Bacon was among the first to draw attention to the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, and he helped bring to light the problems facing millions of refugees from the war in Iraq. He was instrumental in finding sanctuary for displaced Iraqis in Middle East countries and lobbied for greater numbers of Iraqi refugees to be admitted to the United States. Between 2006 and 2008, the State Department increased funding for Iraqi refugees from $43 million to $398 million.

"The U.S. cannot afford to win the military battle and lose the humanitarian campaign," Bacon said.

He visited refugee camps in Afghanistan, Somalia, Colombia and Cambodia, among others, and often wrote articles or appeared on television to discuss humanitarian concerns. In the final weeks of his life, he provided seed money to establish a center at Refugees International to assist people displaced by global climate change.

"I've seen him in action in Sudan," New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote in his blog last week, "and he combines passion with intricate knowledge of policy to make a difference."

Kenneth Hogate Bacon was born Nov. 21, 1944, in Bronxville, N.Y., and was a graduate of the private Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. His father was an administrator at Amherst College in Massachusetts, from which Mr. Bacon graduated in 1966. He received dual master's degrees, in business administration and journalism, from Columbia University in 1968.

After working as a legislative assistant to Sen. Thomas J. McIntyre (D-N.H.), Mr. Bacon joined the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal in 1969. He covered banking, economics, education and international finance and was the paper's Pentagon correspondent from 1976 to 1980.

"He was amazingly insightful and was seen as such by both sources and colleagues," said Gerald F. Seib, the Journal's executive Washington editor.

The one blemish in Mr. Bacon's career came in 1998, when he was briefly embroiled in the scandal surrounding President Bill Clinton and onetime White House intern Monica Lewinsky. In 1996 and 1997, Lewinsky was an assistant in Mr. Bacon's office at the Pentagon. One of her friends was an employee in the department, Linda Tripp, who had tape-recorded telephone conversations in which Lewinsky said she was having an affair with Clinton.

In March 1998, Mr. Bacon authorized a deputy to release parts of Tripp's personnel record to a reporter from the New Yorker magazine, revealing that Tripp had not disclosed on an employment application that she had been arrested for theft when she was 19. The charge was reduced to loitering.

The episode touched off a firestorm in conservative circles, as critics accused Mr. Bacon of breaking federal privacy laws to damage Tripp's reputation. He quickly admitted he had handled the situation poorly, and a Pentagon inspector general concluded in 2000 that Mr. Bacon had not followed Defense Department procedures. Then-Defense Secretary Cohen sent Mr. Bacon a letter expressing "disappointment" over his "hasty and ill-conceived" actions.

Despite that incident, Cohen said in an interview with The Washington Post last week, Mr. Bacon "was always extraordinarily well prepared."

"He was a special guy," Cohen added. "But for that Linda Tripp issue, I have nothing but accolades."

Mr. Bacon was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the International Institute for Strategic Studies and was chairman of the board of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington.

Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Darcy Wheeler Bacon of Washington and Block Island; two daughters, Katharine Bacon of Brookline, Mass., and Sarah Bacon of Brooklyn, N.Y.; his father, Theodore S. Bacon of Peterborough, N.H.; a brother; and two grandchildren.

After struggling with metastatic melanoma, Mr. Bacon wrote about his illness and his problems with insurance coverage in an essay published by The Post on July 21.

"My oncologist has spent hours filling out forms and arguing with the insurance company to arrange coverage for my chemotherapy," he wrote. "Now my wife and I are waging our own fight with the provider to arrange payment for my daily brain radiation, which has been rejected as 'not medically necessary' even though the cancer in my brain is growing rapidly."

"For me and other Americans suffering from advanced cancer," he concluded, "the health-care debate this summer is no abstraction. It is a matter of life or death."


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