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December 15, 2007

Ed Guthman: ethics role model

Ed Guthman has been a mentor, coach , role model and friend to generations of journalists. The respect they and others feel for him was reflected Friday, December 14, when he was honored by the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for his contributions to journalism and to the city, which he served as a founding member of the ethics commission.

His children and grandchildren were on hand, as were reporters who had worked for him when he was national editor of the Los Angeles Times. They included Narda Zacchino, Ken Reich, Bryce Nelson, Henry Weinstein and me. Narda has just completed her book about Pat Tillman, written with the slain soldier's mother, Mary Tillman. Ken regularly beats up on his alma mater in his blog Take Back The Times. Bryce is a journalism professor at USC. Henry covers the legal beat with the same energy and skill he had when I persuaded him to report on city hall more than 20 years ago.

Ed was clearly moved by the praise showered on him by speakers including the mayor, council members and LeeAnn Pelham, executive director of the ethics commission. Also on hand was Geoffrey Cowan, retired dean of the Annenberg School for Communications. He and Ed were among the creators of the ethics commission and the city political ethics laws, which include partial public financing of city campaigns.

I was a speaker, asked by Gary Guthman, one of Ed's sons, to talk about his years at the Times. That was easy. Generations of reporters did some of their finest work under Ed's smart and inspirational leadership.

I also wanted to talk about the ethics commission and the contributions Ed made to it as a member and as its president. As a member of the current commission, I feel we're under attack from some elected officials and lawyers who represent them in campaign financing matters. They charge that our excellent staff is too strict and they have the same complaint about the commission.

I think all of us--elected officials and commissioners--could learn something from Ed. Ed believed in enforcing the ethics law even when it made elected officials mad. Yet, Ed, then and now, likes politicians. As a commissioner he worked with one of city hall's most fabled politicians, the late council president John Ferraro, on writing the ethics law. The crusading journalist and the veteran pol
came up with something good.

Ed may like and understand politicians. But that didn't stop him from cracking down on misbehavior.

He is just the kind of person I wish elected officials would appoint to the ethics commission--independent, informed and deeply committed to the mission of this important regulatory agency


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