Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Guthman dies
Ed Guthman, a Seattle native who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Seattle Times in 1950 and went on to lead newspapers in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and serve as press secretary for Attorney General Robert Kennedy, died Sunday night at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood in Los Angeles. He was 89 and suffered from amyloidosis, a rare disease that attacks internal organs.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Winning a Pulitzer Prize can be the achievement of a lifetime for a journalist, but for Ed Guthman, it was merely a beginning in a long, distinguished career in journalism, government and education.
Mr. Guthman, a Seattle native who won a Pulitzer for The Seattle Times in 1950 and went on to lead newspapers in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, and serve as press secretary for U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, died Sunday night at his home in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood in Los Angeles. He was 89 and suffered from amyloidosis, a rare disease which attacks the internal organs.
"He was comfortable and we had a birthday party for him on Aug. 11," his son Les Guthman said Monday.
Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen called Mr. Guthman "one of my true heroes."
"He set the standard for what our family feels our journalistic stewardship is, in terms of doing the right thing, telling the truth and serving the community," Blethen said.
Mr. Guthman was a 29-year-old reporter at The Times in 1949 when he wrote a story exonerating a University of Washington professor wrongly accused of being a communist.
His work earned the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished national reporting and was announced by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was then president of Columbia University, which hands out the award. It was The Times' first Pulitzer.
Frank Blethen was only a boy when Mr. Guthman's articles in the Blethen-family-owned paper cleared the name of UW philosophy professor Melvin Rader, but Blethen said he grew up with tremendous respect for Guthman. His work helped make investigative reporting a lasting priority at the newspaper, Blethen said.
"Few people today can know what it was like in 1949," Blethen said. "If you didn't like someone, you accused them of being a communist ... and they could go to jail or lose their livelihood."
Amid that nationwide "red scare," a paid government witness told a state legislative committee that Rader had attended a secret communist training school in New York state in 1938. In fact, Rader had been with his family at a forest camp near Granite Falls.
Guthman, with the support of his editor and publisher, tracked down information corroborating Rader's account, exposing the accusations as groundless.
Recalling the episode in 1998, Mr. Guthman said the crusade against Rader and others "should never have happened."
"Innocent people were terrified by their own government," he said.
Edwin O. Guthman was born Aug. 11, 1919, the son of a grocer from Germany and a mother who had been raised in Canada. He attended Seattle's Seward Grade School, Broadway High School and the University of Washington, where he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism.
During World War II, he served in the Army in North Africa and Italy and was wounded in combat, receiving the Purple Heart and Silver Star.
After the war, he started filing sports scores for the old Seattle Star newspaper, then was hired as a reporter for The Times in 1947.
In 1947, he married JoAnn Cheim, of Tacoma. She died in 1990.
Mr. Guthman left The Times in 1961 to work for Robert Kennedy when he was attorney general and then a senator from New York, from 1961 to 1965. Mr. Guthman drew on those experiences to write or co-edit four books about Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968.
Last year, Kennedy's brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, wrote a letter honoring Mr. Guthman for a lifetime-achievement award Mr. Guthman received in Los Angeles. "In those early days at the Justice Department, on Bobby's Senate campaign, and later at the RFK Memorial, you've always been there with your good judgment, unflappable presence and trademark smile."
Mr. Guthman's association with the Kennedys also helped land him on President Nixon's infamous "enemies list."
After leaving his job with Kennedy in 1965, Mr. Guthman served as national editor at the Los Angeles Times until 1977, and then editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer until 1987. He then joined the University of Southern California School of Journalism, where he taught until he retired last year.
Mr. Guthman served as president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and was appointed to an independent panel that reviewed the 1993 assault by federal agents on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in which 82 people died.
Among his many honors, he was given a Distinguished Alumnus Award from the University of Washington and an honorary doctorate of Human Letters from Holy Family College in Philadelphia, was inducted into the Washington State Hall of Journalistic Achievement at Washington State University and was given an award for Distinguished Achievement in Journalism from the University of Southern California School of Journalism.
"Very few journalists have been respected by so many different types of people. He was one of a kind," said a longtime friend, USC journalism professor Bryce Nelson.
Nelson, a colleague of Guthman's at both the L.A. Times and at USC, said, "Ed Guthman was a hard-hitting investigative reporter, an editor who believed strongly in the idea of service to his country and his community. ... He was a very warm man of great integrity who was totally committed to protecting each American's rights to freedom of speech and the press guaranteed by the First Amendment."
Mr. Guthman is survived by his children, Les Guthman, of New York City; Edwin H. Guthman, of Sebastopol, Calif.; Gary Guthman of Culver City, Calif.; and Diane Guthman of Santa Monica, Calif. He also is survived by five grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 Centinela Blvd., Los Angeles. The family requests that donations be made to the Edwin O. and JoAnn Guthman Endowed Scholarship for Investigative Reporting at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, 3502 Watt Way, Los Angeles, CA 90089.
Sources for this article include Seattle Times archives and the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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