Donald S. Kellermann dies at 83: Journalist founded research center on public opinion

Donald S. Kellermann
Donald S. Kellermann
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By Emma Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2010; 12:39 AM

Donald S. Kellermann, a onetime reporter who provoked his own arrest to get a scoop, collaborated with Sen. Jacob Javits on a well-received book about war powers, and led a Washington research center to assess public opinion on media, politics and policy, died Nov. 10 of liver cancer at his home in the District. He was 83.

Mr. Kellermann spent much of his career working in journalism and on Capitol Hill, but his most enduring work came as founding director of the Times Mirror Center for the People and the Press, which he started in the 1980s.

Originally paid for by the parent company of newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and Newsday, the center conducted broad surveys on attitudes of Americans toward issues including political gridlock in Washington, media coverage of the first Persian Gulf War and then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry's 1990 trial on charges of drug possession and perjury.

The center also studied opinions abroad, including in Eastern Europe, where researchers gauged feelings toward capitalism just as the Soviet Union crumbled.

Since 1996, the center has been funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. It is now part of the Pew Research Center, which calls itself a "fact tank." The Pew Research Center's reports, on such topics as religion, demographics and technology in American life, are widely cited by reporters, politicians and others seeking to understand the changing world.

"Don thought in a big way about the big issues of the day, whether it was media, politics or international affairs," said Andrew Kohut, who worked as the director of surveys at the Times Mirror Center and now serves as president of the Pew Research Center. "Many of the things that we do today began in the Kellermann era."

Donald Simon Kellermann was born Feb. 6, 1927, in New York City. He discovered an interest in journalism during his service in the Army as a radio broadcaster stationed in Germany in the years immediately following World War II.

He briefly attended Hofstra University before dropping out to go to work. He shifted from the ad department to the newsroom at the Brooklyn Eagle and then joined the reporting staff at Newsday, a newspaper on Long Island.

He made a name for himself there by intentionally breaking a window to provoke his own arrest so he could report on conditions in local jails. That project helped him land a job as a producer at CBS News in 1952.

He stayed there for 11 years and also worked for National Educational Television, the forerunner of PBS, before going to work on Capitol Hill. He was chief of staff to Javits (R-N.Y.) from 1972 to 1977. He co-wrote with Javits the 1973 book "Who Makes War," which recounted the historical struggle between Congress and the president for the power to wage war.

The book was essentially an attempt to court the public's support for Javits's War Powers Act, an attempt to regain more Congressional control of overseas military deployments. The bill was soon passed, over President Richard M. Nixon's veto.

Richard J. Walton, an author of foreign-policy books, wrote in a Washington Post review that "Who Makes War" was "surprisingly good."

"I say surprising because staff-written books by public figures have a well-deserved reputation for being more earnest than interesting," Walton wrote. "But this is a genuine and interesting contribution to as important a debate as this nation has carried on: what to do about imperial presidents who persist in causing terrible human misery by sending Americans off to kill and be killed in undeclared wars."

Mr. Kellermann joined the Times Mirror Co. in 1980 and founded its Washington corporate office. He moved to Los Angeles in 1984 to serve as head of corporate public affairs before returning to Washington found the company's new research center.

Survivors include his wife of 63 years, Joan Robin Kellermann of Washington; two daughters, Carol Kellermann of New York and Lynn Kellermann of Brookline, Mass.; a sister; and two grandchildren.

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