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Remembering Columnist Russell Baker, An Astute World Observer

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The writer Russell Baker has died at the age of 93. He was a newspaperman, a columnist, who across decades, wrote almost 5,000 New York Times commentaries under the headline "Observer," which is what he was - offering wry or satirical observations about American life.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Russell Baker described his work on NPR in 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RUSSELL BAKER: I have spent half my life now interpreting America to Americans.

INSKEEP: Those interpretations won him a Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for distinguished commentary.

GREENE: Now, Baker started his journalism career working the police beat at The Baltimore Sun, where he remains a legend, as those of us who work there are well aware. Laura Lippman once wrote in The Sun that Baker is our literary Babe Ruth, the Baltimore kid who made good in New York. He'd go on to cover Congress and the White House and the presidential campaigns of 1956 and 1960. And as a sort of second act in his career, Baker, in 1993, became host of "Masterpiece Theater" on PBS.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BAKER: It's very interesting to be associated with something that's really an enduring ornament of American culture. This is one of the things that justifies television and nobles it somehow. And I like being identified with that.

INSKEEP: Although he felt a bit awkward being made up for TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

BAKER: But I like to think I'm a, you know, just plain, mud-between-the-toes America.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (Laughter).

BAKER: And I'm not going to be pushed around like that by television.

GREENE: Russell Baker was born in rural Virginia to a stonemason dad and a schoolteacher mom. His 15 books included "Growing Up," the story of his childhood during the Great Depression, a tale that earned him a second Pulitzer in 1982. Baker's son tells The Baltimore Sun that his father was just a regular Joe with an extraordinary job. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.