In Memoriam: Michael Shanahan

SMPA professor and veteran political reporter remembered for his love of journalism, teaching.

In Memoriam: Michael Shanahan
November 24, 2014
The School of Media and Public Affairs announced that Assistant Professor of Media and Public Affairs Michael Shanahan died on Saturday. The cause of death was an ischemic stroke that occurred on Tuesday evening, Mr. Shanahan’s wife Victoria wrote in an email to SMPA Director Frank Sesno.
Mr. Shanahan was a seasoned political reporter who started teaching at the George Washington University as an adjunct professor in 1999. He became an assistant professor in 2005 and also served as the school’s assistant director for student affairs, taking on admissions and advising responsibilities. His roles made him a beloved and respected fixture at SMPA.
"Michael Shanahan brought a reporter's eye and a professor's dedication to his work," said Mr. Sesno. “Through his teaching, advising and mentoring, his commitment was always to students first. In his classes and through the internships he managed, Professor Shanahan pushed students to be better journalists, writers, reporters and citizens. He was an unshakeable friend and will be missed tremendously." 
Mr. Shanahan brought experiences from his 40-year career as a reporter directly to the classroom. He got his first job out of Penn State at the Associated Press in 1965, leaving to enlist in the U.S Army. There, he went on to win a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantryman's Badge for service as an intelligence officer in An Loc and Cu Chi, Vietnam.
He returned to the AP in 1969. Later, he covered the White House, presidential campaigns and other political affairs for the Newhouse Newspapers’ Washington bureau. He also served as a political and congressional correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, where he wrote about congressional debates surrounding the first war in Iraq.
He always impressed his passion for journalism upon students, teaching classes that left younger generations with the know-how to report in Washington and a deep understanding of ethics in the field. Students and alumni filled the SMPA Facebook page with memories of the professor who served as a mentor to so many.
 “You could tell his favorite classes were the ones where he brought past students back. He'd beam with pride when they spoke of their successful careers, and wanted his current students to see that same success was possible for them,” Emily Cahn, B.A. ’11, wrote.
“Every week, two pages, double-spaced, no more,” remembered Brendan Barrack, B.A. ’11. “That's all Professor Michael Shanahan permitted in his ethics class as a response to the array of complex moral dilemmas he asked his beloved students to consider. It was an assignment that sounded so easy, but proved to be so difficult. Such was the understated brilliance of Prof. Shanahan... This is a real loss not only to everyone at SMPA, but to the future of journalism as a whole.”
In an email, his wife explained that Mr. Shanahan passed away peacefully in his home. 
“He did not suffer at any time. He has donated his organs for possible transplant and research purposes, including brain imaging for a new NIH study on the relationship between ischemic stroke and traumatic brain injury,” she said.
SMPA is organizing a Celebration of Life in honor of Professor Shanahan on December 6 at 11 a.m. at 1957 E Street NW, room 213. Please visit for more information.