Veteran reporter Mike Buchanan dies at 78

FILE – WUSA TV reporter Mike Buchanan shares a bath with live ducks at the Peabody Hotel, Washington, USA, February 24, 1988. The ducks are a tradition at the Peabody Hotel, swimming in the marble lobby fountain, walking on red carpets and sleeping in penthouse quarters at night.

Mike Buchanan, whose coverage of crime in the D.C. region included some of the biggest stories over three decades, has died. He was 78 years old.

Buchanan’s daughter said he had a heart attack at his home in Bethany Beach, Delaware, on Thursday.

Buchanan first worked as a print reporter. He then worked in television at WUSA9 and in radio at WTOP.

It was Buchanan who was the first to report that the motive behind John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt on then-President Ronald Reagan in 1981 was to impress actress Jodie Foster.

He also broke the news of the details surrounding the overdose death of star basketball player Len Bias.

He infuriated police when he revealed that a tarot “death card” had been found at the scene of one of the shootings in the D.C. sniper case back in 2002.

Buchanan was best known as a crime reporter who had unique access to police sources.

“Cops loved Buch!” NBC Washington’s Pat Collins said. “He would have coffee with them; he would have lunch with them. He’d know about their wives, their kids, their problems, their successes.”

It wasn’t unusual to find Buchanan hanging out inside the homicide squad offices when detectives were writing up their reports, Collins said.

“Just about every police officer in Washington D.C., a lot of firefighters and law enforcement throughout the region, all knew Mike. They knew they could trust him,” said Dave Statter, who worked with Buchanan at WUSA9.

Collins and Statter said that Buchanan was generous and encouraged talent, and that Buchanan was responsible for getting them hired at TV stations in D.C.

“I found out only recently, just a few months ago from Josh Mankiewicz at NBC that he was up for the same job, but it was Buch who made the difference and got me hired,” said Statter, who now runs Statter911 Communications.

Buchanan’s best friend Collins said that he was, “a character with a capital C,” with a personality straight out of a Damon Runyon novel.

“For Mike Buchanan, a taquito from 7-Eleven was a destination lunch,” Collins said.

Statter recalled asking Buchanan about a stain on his white shirt. “I asked him, ‘Did you spill coffee this morning?'” Statter said Buchanan looked down on his shirt and said, “No, that happened weeks ago.”

Buchanan’s work style was unique, according to Collins.

“He’d used the dashboard of his car as a notepad. And when it came to deadlines? Well, for Mike that was just a suggestion,” Collins said with a laugh.

Collins is working on a book — which will be titled “Newsman: Covering Murders and Measuring Snow in the Nation’s Capital”— about his experiences as a reporter, and he said Buchanan will have a section in that book.

Buchanan consistently got the stories or details that other reporters did not. And even when a story seemed too good or too bizarre to be true, editors supported Buchanan’s reporting.

“As always, Mike Buchanan’s reporting was correct,” Statter said.

Collins said that while many people remember Buchanan’s crime reporting best, he also filed features from the road, traveling across the country and bringing back human interest stories.

“He was just a passionate reporter who could look down the barrel of the lens of a camera and tell a story that you’d never forget,” Collins said.

Watch a video of Buchanan and Collins talking about their craft.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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