Jeane Kirkpatrick was remarkable, an Iron Lady of U.S. diplomacy who took no prisoners. I should know: I was dumb enough to challenge her - clumsily - during a live interview 22 years ago and I barely survived the encounter. At the time, Kirkpatrick was the Reagan administration's uncompromising United Nations ambassador and, among other things, a fierce defender of the Contra war in Central America. I was co-anchoring an NBC prime time news magazine show with Linda Ellerbee, a program that was memorable only for occasional moments of unintentional hilarity. During a live interview in the summer of 1984, I asked Kirkpatrick to react to a report from Fred Francis, our correspondent in the field, who had evidence that the CIA was secretly mining the Nicaraguan harbor. In what was clearly intended as a "gotcha" moment, I played Fred's report and asked Kirkpatrick to respond. Instead, she sat across from me, studying her nails and swiveling in her chair, saying nothing. Clearly flustered, I repeated the question. All I got was stony silence from the ambassador. Finally, I pressed her again to answer. That's when she put me away by saying, "I don't respond to lies."
I'm sure there was a comeback, if I could have thought of it at the time. Later, my bosses told me it was one of the worst live interviews they'd ever seen. Unfortunately, my most important critic - my mother - agreed. When you've lost your mother, you know you've lost the audience. I learned a lesson about being courteous when asking tough questions. Within the cabinet, Jeane Kirkpatrick frequently crossed swords with Alexander Haig, Ronald Reagan's first secretary of state and, nominally, her superior in the cabinet. He didn't last long. She was less successful in combating the president's chief of staff, James Baker, whom she likely thought was too "pragmatic." (Yes, the same James Baker who co-chaired the Iraq Study Group.) Over a remarkable career, Kirkpatrick was a widely respected professor, a tough diplomat, and an uncompromising neoconservative. Ronald Reagan admired her ability to stand up for his, and her, principles. Peacefully, in her sleep last night, Jeane Kirkpatrick died, one of the great champions of the Cold War and a pioneer for women in foreign policy.