In Memoriam: Professor Emeritus Kurt Lang

Kurt Lang, professor emeritus of communication and sociology at the University of Washington, passed away on May 1 at the age of 95. He served as director of the communication school at the UW from 1984 until his retirement in 1993.

Professor Lang fled Nazi Germany for New York City with his family in 1936. He earned his master’s and doctorate at the University of Chicago in sociology, after spending several years working for the U.S. military. In a November 2017 article in The Atlantic, Professor Lang explained how “World War II spurred my ambition by teaching me how to navigate the army. Those lessons led me to confront the society I had once known so well, and to study politics and people living in a time of upheaval.”

Professor Lang co-authored several books with his wife and intellectual partner, Gladys Engel Lang, on the influence of media and television on politics and public opinion, including the “The Battle for Public Opinion in 1983,” where they illustrated how the news media affected public understanding of Watergate, and attitudes toward President Nixon. Their findings were resurfaced by New York Times reporter Michelle Goldberg in her article about “Trump’s TV Trial.”

In her tribute to Professor Lang for the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), Professor Patricia Moy described how along with his wife Gladys, “Kurt crafted the singular MacArthur Day study, which illustrated how television coverage could be perceived as reality and shape public opinion. Published in their 1968 book, “Politics & Television,” this study is the forerunner of myriad studies in our discipline. Indeed, in 2002, the chapter was hailed by Elihu Katz and colleagues as a canonic text in media research.”

Reflecting on Professor Lang’s work and scholarship, Professor David Domke, Chair of the Department of Communication, said, “Professor Kurt Lang was an intellectual giant. He saw totalitarian authoritarianism firsthand in Germany before his family came to the United States in the 1930s, and he recognized the power of modern mass media to mobilize public opinion. His research and insights about television, American politics, and popular attitudes are foundational to understanding how media messages matter, always. We were fortunate to have his leadership at the UW. May we all strive to connect research to the contemporary world in the way his work did.”

In addition to their scholarship, the Langs were also art collectors and in 2014, donated a collection of 1,400 prints to the Smith College Museum of Art. Professor Lang’s daughter Glenna describes how “the beautiful exhibition at the Smith College Museum of Art of World War I prints, mainly from his and my mother’s collection, brought him enormous pleasure.” She also said that, “He valued his friends and made sure to keep up his annual Christmas letters, although responses to your responses sometimes failed to reach their recipients due to his inaccurate keystrokes.”

Gladys Engel Lang died in 2016. Professor Kurt Lang is survived by two children, three grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

A memorial for Professor Lang will be held Saturday, June 15 at 3 p.m., at:

Cadbury Commons
66 Sherman Street
Cambridge, MA 02140