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Time bureau chief Robert Ajemian penetrated politicians''psychological armor'

Robert Ajemian, left, with Edward Kennedy in the late 1970s, was able to get beyond what he called politicians' "psychological armor."
Robert Ajemian, left, with Edward Kennedy in the late 1970s, was able to get beyond what he called politicians' "psychological armor." (Dennis Brack)

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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 29, 2010; 7:19 PM

Robert M. Ajemian, 85, a veteran national affairs reporter who became Washington bureau chief at Time magazine and whose disarming manner helped him probe beyond what he called the "marvelous psychological armor" of image-conscious politicians, died Sept. 24 at his home in Boston. He had complications from cancer surgery.

Mr. Ajemian, a Harvard-educated poker enthusiast, began covering presidential campaigns in 1952 after joining the Time-Life staff.

He rose to prominence within the Luce magazine empire as correspondent, political editor and later assistant managing editor at Life. When the magazine ceased publication as a weekly in 1972, Mr. Ajemian moved to Time as a writer on political and national affairs.

"I admire politicians enormously," Mr. Ajemian told his own magazine. "They are the best of the survivalists. They get battered and second-guessed and in the process develop this marvelous psychological armor. It is fascinating when they allow you to look behind it."

One of his most affecting stories was the blunt confession he drew from Hubert H. Humphrey in 1976 while they watched the Democratic primary from the senator's home in Waverly, Minn.

Humphrey, a former vice president who had long hungered for the Oval Office, told Mr. Ajemian, "I've learned that I don't have to be president to be happy. I don't hunger for it like I used to. I've got my pride back, and I'm not going to lose it again."

He added, "Why does a man stay in politics? Power, yes. But the real reward is acceptance."

A few years later, Mr. Ajemian persuaded John Connally, the former Texas governor and Cabinet secretary who was running for the Republican presidential nomination, to drop the guarded manner for which the "smooth-talking, pinstriped attorney" was known.

"I had asked him about country-and-western music, and he started talking about the ballads of his youth," Mr. Ajemian told Time. "Then, all of a sudden, he began to sing - his voice strong, a little creaky, perhaps and certainly less splendid than his oratory, but the words never faltered and he was into this song about 'the eastbound train.' "

Connally wailed: "My father is in prison/He's lost his sight, they say/I'm going to seek his pardon/This cold December day."

In 1978, Mr. Ajemian succeeded Hugh Sidey as Time's Washington bureau chief, a plum but demanding assignment. During his six years in Washington, Mr. Ajemian helped orchestrate the influential magazine's coverage of the Carter White House and the first term of Ronald Reagan's administration.

He was regarded as an effective but much-lower-key administrator than Sidey, a longtime Beltway insider who was a regular guest at the Oval Office and was a TV pundit.


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