Mike Posner, a veteran Washington journalist known affectionately to his colleagues as “Poz,” died last week after a battle with leukemia. He was 79.
Known for his crumpled clothes as much as for his good humor and relentless reporting skills, Posner spent much of his career with the UPI and Reuters wire services before covering Congress for the now-defunct LEGI-SLATE News Service and then for CongressDaily, which became National Journal Daily last year.
“Poz was the quintessential wire service reporter. He had an intellect that allowed him to handle any assignment adeptly, and an insight that enabled him to quickly recognize what was behind the story,” said Louis Peck, the former editor-in-chief of CongressDaily, who knew Posner since they covered the 1984 presidential campaign together.
“And he possessed a sharp, sometimes sardonic sense of humor that regularly provided a welcome laugh for his legion of friends in the Washington press corps,” Peck said. “We will all miss him tremendously.”
Posner was born in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Portland, Maine. He spent two years at the University of Maine and graduated from Boston University in 1953 before doing a stint in the Army. Afterward he joined UPI, working in several New England bureaus before moving to the Washington bureau in 1959.
A former colleague at UPI, Patrick Sloyan Sr., recalled that Posner broke one of the biggest stories of President Kennedy’s administration when he learned from former Sen. Kenneth Keating, R-N.Y.—who was well-connected at the CIA—that the Soviet Union was sending soldiers and missiles to Cuba to assist newly installed dictator Fidel Castro. When the news broke, “Kennedy, [then-Secretary of State Dean] Rusk, and the whole apparatus came down on UPI, Posner, and Keating,” Sloyan said in an e-mail.
Posner moved to Reuters in 1972 and stayed with the news service for 25 years. As chief political reporter, Posner covered a host of famous leaders, Presidents Reagan to Clinton, but one of his favorite stories was filling in to cover a boxing match in Washington between Michael Spinks and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad in 1983, said a former colleague at Reuters, Andy Nibley.
Posner and Nibley went to dinner before the fight, showed up late, and discovered that it was canceled because Mustafa was found to be over the weight limit, Nibley said. When they were told that Spinks was having a press conference across town, they rushed to the hotel, only to find they were too late for that, too. As they were leaving—and preparing to tell the editors in London that they had botched the story—one of Mustafa’s burly bodyguards grabbed Posner and escorted him and Nibley to the fighter’s room, where he charged that the weigh-in had been rigged. Mustafa insisted on pouring the reporters several glasses of Scotch whisky, but they managed to stumble back to the news service and score an exclusive for Reuters, Nibley said.
When Posner joined LEGI-SLATE in 1998, he showed up in the Senate Press Gallery on his first day uncharacteristically sporting a clean, pressed shirt, recalled former Reuters reporter Joanne Kenen. “After a few minutes shuffling around the gallery and mumbling in that Poz-only way, he went downstairs to the Senate carryout,” she said in an e-mail. “Five minutes later, he was back, sitting at that wooden end table in the gallery, his favorite perch, ready to eat his oatmeal. Naturally, he immediately spilled it all over the table and himself. One of the staffers in the gallery—Merri Baker—got on the loudspeaker as the oatmeal dripped. ‘Poz’s back,’ she said. Nothing else needed to be said.”
Another former colleague at CongressDaily, George C. Wilson, said Posner was one of a kind.
“Nobody had more friends on the Hill nor enjoyed the human comedy up there more than Poz,” Wilson wrote in an e-mail. “He warmed us all with his Goodwill getups and constant smile. I never heard anyone say a bad word about Poz.”
Posner is survived by his wife of 47 years, Andrea. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, April 9, from 1 to 4 p.m. at Gawler’s Funeral Home, 5130 Wisconsin Ave. N.W., in Washington. There will be a reception immediately after the service.
Memorial contributions may be sent to Sibley Memorial Hospital Foundation, 5255 Loughboro Rd. N.W., Washington, D.C., 20016.
This article appears in the March 18, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.