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Ken Bode, Erudite ‘Washington Week’ Host on PBS, Dies at 83

Ken Bode, a bearded, bearish former political operative and television correspondent who, armed with a Ph.D. in politics, moderated the popular PBS program “Washington Week in Review” in the 1990s, died on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C. He was 83.

His death, in a care center, was confirmed by his daughters, Matilda and Josie Bode, who said the cause had not been identified.

Beginning in 1994, Mr. Bode (pronounced BO-dee) coupled congeniality and knowledgeability in steering a Friday night discussion among a rotating panel of reporters about the issues of the day coming out of Washington. His role, as he saw it, was to “bring in people who are really covering the news to empty their notebooks and provide perspective, not to argue with each other,” he told The Washington Post in 1999.

As host of the program, now called “Washington Week,” he succeeded Paul Duke, who had helmed that roundtable of polite talking heads for two decades, and preceded Gwen Ifill, a former NBC News correspondent who died in 2016 at 61. The program, which debuted in 1967, is billed as TV’s longest-running prime time news and public affairs program. The current host is Yamiche Alcindor.

The program’s loyal and generally older viewers were so brass-bound in the 1990s that when Mr. Bode took over, even his beard proved controversial. He proceeded to introduce videotaped segments and remote interviews with correspondents and bring more diversity to his panel of reporters.

He also took more liberties with language than his predecessor.

Credit…PBS

Ending an interview with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post about President Bill Clinton’s economic policies, Mr. Bode quoted a British newspaper’s snarky prediction that the president’s impending visit to Oxford, England, would present people with an opportunity to “focus on one of the president’s less well-publicized organs: his brain.” He described a vacancy on the Supreme Court as constituting “one-ninth of one-third of the government.”

Still, Dalton Delan, then the newly-minted executive vice president of WETA in Washington, which continues to produce the program, wanted to invigorate the format. He proposed including college journalists, surprise guests and people-on-the-street interviews and replacing Mr. Bode with Ms. Ifill (she said she initially turned down the offer) — changes that prompted Mr. Bode to jump, or to be not so gently pushed, from the host’s chair in 1999.

Kenneth Adlam Bode was born on March 30, 1939, in Chicago and raised in Hawarden, Iowa. His father, George, owned a dairy farm and then a dry cleaning business. His mother, June (Adlam) Bode, kept the books.

The first member of his family to attend college, Mr. Bode majored in philosophy and government at the University of South Dakota, graduating in 1961. He went on to earn a doctorate in political science at the University of North Carolina, where he was active in the civil rights movement.

He taught briefly at Michigan State University and the State University of New York at Binghamton, and then gravitated toward liberal politics.

In 1968, Mr. Bode worked in the presidential campaigns of Senators Eugene McCarthy and George S. McGovern. He became research director for a Democratic Party commission, led by Mr. McGovern and Representative Donald M. Fraser of Minnesota, that advocated for reforms in the selection process for delegates to the 1972 Democratic National Convention. He later headed a liberal-leaning organization called the Center for Political Reform.

His marriage to Linda Yarrow ended in divorce. In 1975, he married Margo Hauff, a high school social studies teacher who wrote and designed educational materials for learning-disabled children. He is survived by her, in addition to their daughters, as well as by a brother and two grandsons.

After working in politics, Mr. Bode began writing for The New Republic in the early 1970s and became its politics editor. He moved to NBC News in 1979, encouraged by the network’s newsman Tom Brokaw, a friend from college, and eventually became the network’s national political correspondent. In that role he hosted “Bode’s Journal,” a weekly segment of the “Today” show, on which he explored, among other issues, voting rights violations, racial discrimination and patronage abuses, as his longtime producer Jim Connors recalled in an interview.

Mr. Bode left the network a decade later to teach at DePauw University in Indiana, where he founded the Center for Contemporary Media. While at DePauw, from 1989 to 1998, he commuted to Washington to host “Washington Week in Review” and wrote an Emmy-winning CNN documentary, “The Public Mind of George Bush” (1992).

Beginning in 1998, he was dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism for three years and remained a professor there until 2004.

Mr. Bode said he retired from broadcast journalism for family reasons. “I was raising my kids from 100 airports a year,” he said. As he told The New York Times in 1999, “I knew then that my problem was, I’ve got the best job, but I’ve also got one chance to be a father, and I’m losing it.”

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