Ed Guthman, professor and journalist was 89 *

Word was circulated tonight at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism that senior scholar Edwin O. Guthman has died. Guthman served as president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission in that panel's infancy. Before joining Annenberg he was national editor of the Los Angeles Times, an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and press secretary to U.S. Attorney General, and later senator, Robert F. Kennedy. His work for Kennedy got him included on President Richard Nixon's notorious "enemies list," according to Guthman's Annenberg bio. Here's the statement going around USC:

Diane Guthman called with the sad news that her father, longtime journalism professor Ed Guthman passed away today. He was peaceful, at home and surrounded by his family.

Arrangements for a memorial service are pending and we will be sure to keep the USC Annenberg community informed as plans are made.

Our condolences go out to Diane and the entire Guthman family as we all mourn the loss of a great journalist, public servant and teacher.

Diane is one of Guthman's four children. He won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for an exposé on the Washington State Un-American Activities Committee that cleared a University of Washington professor of false charges. Here's a blog post from Bill Boyarsky last December.

* Labor Day update: Services will be held Friday at Hillside Memorial Park. Here's the L.A. Times obit, and after the jump is USC's release.

Ed Guthman, journalist and educator, dies at 89

Edwin O. Guthman, press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy, national editor of the Los Angeles Times, and journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, died Sunday in Los Angeles with his family at his home in the Pacific Palisades. He was 89.

Guthman had been suffering from complications of amyloidosis, a rare disease with which he had been diagnosed last year.

"Ed Guthman was not only great friend, but great journalist," said Paul Conrad, longtime political cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times. "He was the only person I ever tore up a cartoon for."

Edwin O. Guthman was born in Seattle on August 11, 1919. The son of immigrants, his journalistic ambitions began as a youth, when he put out a neighborhood newsletter. While in high school he took his first paying job as a journalist as a sports reporter for the Seattle Star. He would go on to study journalism at the University of Washington before World War II, and received his B.A. in 1944, during his military service.

Guthman entered the U.S. Army as a private in July 1941, five months before Pearl Harbor, and was eventually promoted to captain, leading a reconnaissance platoon in North Africa and Italy. His platoon was the first American unit to enter Rome in 1944, as the Nazis vacated the city. Since the Nazis didn’t put up a fight for Rome, Guthman dismissed it as “no big deal." He was wounded in the arm and leg during the Italian campaign and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star.

After his discharge, Guthman returned to work at the Seattle Star. He joined the Seattle Times as a general assignment/investigative reporter in 1947 and worked there until 1961. In 1947, Guthman married JoAnn Cheim, his wife and mother of their four children until her death in 1990.

In 1950, Guthman won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for articles proving that a Washington State investigative committee had subverted evidence that cleared a University of Washington professor of false charges. He received a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard for the 1950-51 academic year. Harvard had a big effect on him. He later explained, “I never knew how little I knew until I went to Harvard. JoAnn and I vowed that we would never be that uninformed again, and we have worked to overcome that ever since.”

During the 1950s, Guthman began investigating corruption charges made against Dave Beck of Seattle, head of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. These charges brought him together with Robert F. Kennedy, who was investigating labor racketeering as a counsel for a U.S. Senate committee. While Guthman was initially suspicious of Robert Kennedy as a politician, he came to greatly respect his character and judgment. When Kennedy asked him in 1961 to come to Washington, D.C., to become the chief press spokesman for the Justice Department, Guthman immediately accepted.

Guthman played a key role in the Justice Department under Kennedy, including active participation in the civil rights battles in the South. Kennedy also brought Guthman along as an observer in the White House meetings discussing the U.S response to the Soviet attempt to put nuclear missiles into Cuba.

While carefully non-partisan in his journalistic work, Guthman could be described as “a Kennedy loyalist” in his personal life. Every day he wore a tie, he would wear the “PT-109” tie clip that President John Kennedy had given him. He took satisfaction in his close relationship with the Kennedy family and his service as director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. He later wrote or edited four books concerning Robert Kennedy, including an autobiographical account “We Band of Brothers.” Perhaps partly because of his identification with the Kennedys, Guthman was given the dubious distinction of being listed third on President Nixon’s “enemies list.”

After serving as press secretary for Robert Kennedy’s entire four years as Attorney General and his first few months as Senator from New York, Guthman anwered an offer from Otis Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, in 1965 to become national editor of that paper. During the next 12 years, Guthman substantially strengthened the size and competence of the paper’s national news staff and Washington bureau. In 1977, Guthman became editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he would work until his professional retirement, at 68.

Not one to settle down, Guthman returned to Los Angeles and took a position as professor and senior lecturer at the USC School of Journalism. He spent the next 20 years working as a full-time teacher of investigative reporting and newswriting, where he was revered by his undergraduate and graduate students. He emphasized the value of direct examination of public documents in investigative reporting and was a strong advocate of First Amendment protections of the press.

While teaching at USC, Guthman also took part in other public service activities. He served as a member of the independent panel investigating events leading to the Federal move against the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993. He was also a founding member of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, and acted as president from 1997 to 1998.

On December 14, 2007, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution praising Mr. Guthman for a lifetime of achievement for the city and nation. The resolution stated that his work on the Ethics Commission “championed the rights for citizens to have an open and honest political process.” The council also praised his work to build a school on the ground of the Ambassador Hotel, the site of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination.

Guthman is survived by three sons – Lester, Edwin H. and Gary – a daughter, Diane, and five grandchildren. Services are to be held at 1:00 p.m. Friday, September 5, at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 Centinela Boulevard, Los Angeles, California, 90045. 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, California, 90089.


Alex Boekelheide
Publications Director
USC Annenberg School for Communication

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