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Politics & Government

Andrew Kohut, Founding Director Of Pew Research, Dies At 73


We're going to take a couple of minutes now to remember a leader in public opinion research and a dear member of the NPR family. Andy Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, died early this morning. NPR's Mara Liasson recalls his time on our air and his impressive career.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Andy Kohut was around at the very beginning of modern public opinion research - the technical term for trying to figure out what the American people care about and why. As a young man, he went to work for George Gallup and rose to be president of the Gallup organization before leaving to form his own firm. Michael Dimock was Andy's colleague at Pew Research.

MICHAEL DIMOCK: Andy cared so much about innovating, so that meant both methodological innovation to keep up with changing technologies, but also to understand the social side of opinion, religion and culture and how people live their lives.

LIASSON: Andy didn't just innovate; he explained. On our air, that was often, from the 1980s to 2012 when he cut back because of illness. Andy was one of the most frequent outside voices heard on NPR.


MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Andy, welcome back.

ANDY KOHUT: Happy to be here.

LIASSON: Michael Dimock.

DIMOCK: Andy spoke with authority about public opinion, and it came from his fundamental respect for people. He took that very seriously. These voices were real human voices to him.

LIASSON: Andy's very first interview on NPR was in 1986. It was about public attitudes toward the news media.


KOHUT: What we found was that attitudes toward press freedom is complex. The public defines freedom of the press not as the press can - is free to print what it wants, but that the public is free to hear all points of view.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: From NPR News in Washington, this is live coverage of election 2000.

LIASSON: Andy was an NPR headquarters every election night from the '80s to 2012, trying to explain what was happening with patience and humor. Here he is on the famous, never-ending election night of 2000.


KOHUT: We're not lost, but it's 10 after 10 Eastern and we don't have the foggiest (laughter) clear idea about a trend.

LIASSON: Andy worked hard to clear that fog in inconclusive elections or in his ongoing surveys of public attitudes. He pushed his profession to overcome challenges, as polling moved from doing door-to-door interviews to using the telephone to cellphones and then to online surveys. He always brought the same careful analysis and critical thinking to the results. Andy Kohut was 73 years old. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

SIEGEL: Andy was not just a familiar voice on this network, and by our account, he appeared on our air 509 times. He was a personal friend, too. For these past few years, as he battled leukemia, he was a model of courage. He died despite a stem cell transplant at Johns Hopkins. His son Matthew was the donor.

Andy had received some prestigious awards since his diagnosis. In the dinner tributes at which they were bestowed, he was able to hear during his lifetime how much people admired, respected and loved him. We've lost a pollster. I've lost my friend and fellow fancier of Thai restaurants. To Diane and his children, our condolences. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.