AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative columnist and commentator Charles Krauthammer has died. He was 68 years old. Krauthammer has been a mainstay of The Washington Post and Fox News for years. The Post confirmed his death this evening less than two weeks after he wrote a farewell column for the paper. NPR's David Folkenflik joins us now. Hi, there David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Now, Charles Krauthammer - he transformed politically - right? - over time. What defined his writings or even his influence?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I'd say he was seen as unsparing. I'd say he was seen as intellectually rigorous and precise. He trained as a psychiatrist, but he brought a real intelligence to bear. He's thought of himself initially as a conservative Democrat. He'd been a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat, and he had sort of seen himself as part of the hawkish wing of the party, worked at The New Republic, which was seen as a liberal publication. But he, as its owner, tended towards the right. He himself had a transformation - really strongly hawkish on issues of the Cold War and others. And he emerged as somebody who was a rallying cry for conservatives, among others, who were looking for somebody intellectual to follow with some vigor, particularly in the Reagan years.
CORNISH: What were some of his key issues?
FOLKENFLIK: He was very strong on the Soviet Union. He was very strong on Israel, very hawkish towards it. His father and mother had emigrated from what is now the Ukraine - they're Jews - during World War II. And he thought that it was important to sustain the strength of Israel over time. He saw also a sense of what he saw his role for honor in a society, and so he rallied to a lot of the foreign policy issues of Reagan, was very critical, for example, of President Clinton on personal issues, the Lewinsky scandal and others but seen as somebody who was very principled and painstaking in where - in the way he went about his commentary.
CORNISH: Tell us more about his background 'cause I understand he didn't set out to become a journalist.
FOLKENFLIK: No. As I said, he went to medical school. He went, in fact, to Harvard Medical School after studying at McGill in Canada and then at Oxford in England and had gone to medical school. And then there was a fateful day that changed everything.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER: The second it happened...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You knew.
KRAUTHAMMER: ...I knew exactly what happened. I knew why I wasn't able to move, and I knew what that meant.
FOLKENFLIK: He had been studying that week the spinal cord, and he'd suffered himself what was a crushing spinal cord injury that made him a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. He studied psychiatry and then felt that was unfulfilling and found journalism and in that found another calling even though he practiced as a psychiatrist for years as well.
CORNISH: We mentioned earlier his farewell column. What was in it?
FOLKENFLIK: It was really poignant. He talked about a meaning. He talked about living a life that he had intended to leave. He talked about living a life without regrets. I spoke to some of his former colleagues in recent days after that farewell column, and they said it was a quintessential Charles Krauthammer piece, an essay - reflective, insightful. You know, he was somebody who was much championed and celebrated by conservatives and at times really condemned by liberals.
And at the same time, he was somebody that his colleagues said could often see the humanity and unexpected moments, could look at people who were being condemned, you know, on personal terms and say, you know, that's not right; we're demonizing people, and people are often working through troubled issues. Charles Krauthammer had what could have been a crushing injury that could have in some ways wrecked his life, and he emerged in some ways to have lived a life in full.
CORNISH: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thank you so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.