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January 31, 2007

Who was Deborah Orin-Eilbeck?

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Last Saturday, the New York Post's Washington bureau chief, Deborah Orin-Eilbeck, passed away. Published accounts noted that she died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center of stomach cancer.

Although she had a long and distinguished career in journalism, she was only 59 years old. It was not well known that she was ill and her death caught many by surprise. As recently as a month ago she had articles and columns published. Conventional wisdom was that she was simply on an extended break for the holidays.

Columnist Michelle Malkin wrote the other day: "We met at a Washington event a few years ago, and she was as warm and down to earth as I thought she would be. I had no idea she was ill, which makes the last email she sent me that much more poignant."

Ms. Malkin went on to say that last "October, after I blogged about the campaign to help SPC Reid Stanley raise money to cover hospice care for his terminally ill wife Ellicia (who died on New Year's Eve), Deborah asked me to send her the Stanley family's contact info. She wanted to let them know about a group that could help them with hospice care."

As recently as December 5, she penned a column entitled "Dems' Undiplomatic Flip-Flop Sinks Bolton." She observed that "a 'not happy' President Bush yesterday accepted U.N. Ambassador John Bolton's resignation after the Democrats vowed to block a Senate confirmation vote he'd have won. The dynamic changed when the Democrats won control of the Senate in November and vowed to block him - a sign that bipartisan cooperation between Bush and the Democratic-controlled Congress could be in short supply."

Last November 20, the "Democratic Underground," a liberal political commentary website, chose to aggressively criticize her in a commentary titled, "The Top 10 Conservative Idiots" of Thanksgiving week. They credited her with writing, "Forget 'The Devil Wears Prada' - the hot show in Washington is 'The Shrew Adores Armani.' In just a few short days, House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has turned into a caricature of the shrill, petty woman boss."

As recently as November 13, in a commentary titled, "'Genius' No More Republicans Point to Massive Rove Bungling," that caught the attention of many keen observers of the White House, she wrote: "Rove: His bid for GOP dominance instead brought GOP massacre. NO one's calling Karl Rove 'Boy Genius' anymore. After last week's election debacle, some Republicans wonder aloud if it's time for President Bush's political guru to follow Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld and walk the plank."

Nevertheless, considered "conservative" by many liberal pundits, the mainstream media has unfortunately not widely reported her death; this, in spite of the fact that her career spanned four decades during which covered every presidential election since 1980.

However, many understood her coverage of the issues as "straight down the middle," an approach in which she took no prisoners and suffered no fools.

Perhaps John Podhoretz put her style and approach in perspective best. He wrote in the National Review Online: "Debbie combined a hard-hitting professional style and a wonderfully straightforward personal style in a way that made her alternately hated by many of the people she covered, respected by many of the people who worked next to her in the White House press room."

Her distinguished career was not overlooked by President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush and they issued a statement last Sunday, "Laura and I were saddened to learn of the death of Deborah Orin-Eilbeck."

"Deb had a distinguished, decades-long career as a journalist. Deb fought a valiant battle against cancer with the same tenacity, devotion, and determination that she brought to her work in the White House briefing room through numerous administrations," the president said. "She'll be missed by all of us at the White House who cared deeply for her."

New York Post spokesman Howard Rubenstein noted that she "graduated with honors from Harvard University. She received a master's degree from Northwestern University, Rubenstein said. She attended the schools on scholarships."

Fluent in French, she also studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. Many also remembered her in numerous accounts as "a gourmet cook and an avid gardener and (that she) was passionate about politics."

A native New Yorker, she began her career with the Long Island Press and was picked-up by the New York Post in 1977.

In a tribute to her by the Post, it was noted that even Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., N.Y.), "reached out to wish her well during her illness."

"As hard as it is to believe, we really miss you around here," Senator Clinton wrote.

In perhaps the most fitting memorial, Mr. Podhoretz wrote: "Debbie was the sort of person who would offer you aid and comfort at a moment's notice and also the sort of journalist who always asked the right question at the right moment. Her profession is the lesser for her parting. More important, though, she is someone who will be remembered with fondness for the remainder of their lives by literally hundreds upon hundreds of people she worked with, for, and beside. And that's a pretty great monument."

Many agreed with Post Editor-in-Chief Col Allan when he said: "Deborah was one of the nation's finest political reporters. She was never part of press group-think that so often rules Washington. Common sense ruled her mind, not dogma. I will miss her advice, and The Post's readers will miss her honesty and wisdom."

Make that - in addition to the Post readers - many of us will greatly miss her.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:

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