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Truthdigger of the Week: Edwin O. Guthman

Posted on Sep 7, 2008
Guthman and Kennedy

Ed and Bobby: Ed Guthman, left, wrote about his experiences with Robert F. Kennedy, right, in his 1971 memoir, “We Band of Brothers.”

Truthdig tips its hat this week to Edwin O. Guthman, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, World War II veteran, professor and former press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy. Guthman, who died Aug. 31, was a true class act, a mentor to many and, as the Los Angeles Times noted, a top-notch editor who earned the No. 3 spot on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list for what the Times called his “aggressive pursuit of Watergate stories.” As he made exposing corruption a goal throughout his career as a journalist, Guthman regarded his position on Nixon’s blacklist as a point of pride.

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Ed Guthman served in the Army in World War II, earning the rank of captain along with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart, and journalistic distinction was soon to follow. After the war, he returned to his hometown of Seattle to report for The Seattle Times, and in 1950 he won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on a story that exonerated a University of Washington philosophy professor who’d been branded a communist by the state’s Committee on Un-American Activities.

Guthman went on to tackle many other big stories during his tenure at The Seattle Times and eventually at the Los Angeles Times, but his years as Robert F. Kennedy’s press secretary from 1961 to 1965 also represented a key phase of his life, professionally and personally. Guthman developed a close relationship with Kennedy and was with the senator at L.A.‘s Ambassador Hotel just before RFK was fatally shot in 1968.

Guthman plunged back into journalism in 1965 and was the L.A. Times’ national editor until 1977, after which he joined The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he was that paper’s editorial page editor for the next decade. After returning to Los Angeles in 1987 he taught at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication for 20 years, assisted in the formation of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission and served a term as the panel’s president.

He is survived by four children, five grandchildren and a small army of journalists grateful to have honed their skills under his leadership, including Truthdig’s own political correspondent, Bill Boyarsky, who also worked at the Los Angeles Times for many years and served on the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. “Ed was my friend and mentor. I learned much about journalism and leadership from him,” Boyarsky said after Guthman’s memorial service last Friday. “I was also inspired by his positive attitude toward life. Ed always looked for the positive side of things even when pursuing the worst crooks. Finally, although he was the most ethical of men, he was not self-righteous about it.”


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Would that there were more journalists like Ed Guthman right about now.

Update: Guthman’s daughter, Diane Guthman Cancino, sent along this note to add to Truthdig’s tribute to her father, including some priceless advice that might help aspiring (and practicing) journalists:

“So what was it really that made Ed Guthman such a great man, capable of such remarkable accomplishments and contributions to society?

As his daughter and special friend, I will now reveal to you the Ten Commandments of Ed Guthman:

Commandment One: Once you are done checking and double checking your facts, make another round of calls. There is always someone you may have forgotten to talk to. You better damn well be sure that you got it right!

Commandment Two: Teach your children to be independent and make their own decisions. And I want to add here that this concept expanded beyond his family. He understood the value of independent thinking and always encouraged this of his students, staff and colleagues.

Commandment Three: before you make a big decision in your life, get out there and talk to everyone you can. You will be surprised how many good people will give you thirty minutes of their time if you just ask them.

Commandment Four: It does not matter what type of career you choose to pursue—just make sure you are giving back to society. (This one was inspired by one of his best friends, Robert Kennedy.)

Commandment Five: (This one he learned from his father Otto, a German Jew, who immigrated to the United States in 1889.) Invest in education. It’s the one thing they can’t take away from you.

Commandment Six: Do not miss a day of work due to illness. Just so you all know, he followed that one strictly. My Dad worked just over 60 years without calling in sick. Now, I have to admit that I haven’t followed Commandment Number One and called the human resources offices of all of his former employers to check that fact, but I have a pretty good handle on this. Even in his last year teaching at USC at 87when he had knee surgery, he insisted on getting to campus to teach his class.

But no matter how important your job is - and this is Commandment Seven: Be sure to attend all of your children’s athletic events. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to arrange his work schedule so that he could attend our games.

Commandment Eight is very simple: Never leave a baseball game until the last man is out.

Commandment Nine: The next one we have to attribute to his mother, Hilda, a proper Victorian woman from British Columbia: No matter what anyone tells you, getting old is the shits.

And the final, and Tenth Commandment of Ed Guthman is: Eat chocolate every day.

I know that my Dad would have been so touched to see many glowing and heartfelt tributes - and on behalf of my whole family - I thank you—and as Dad would say—keep pitching!

Diane Guthman Cancino”

Additional links:

Click here to read the Los Angeles Times’ tribute to Guthman.

On Sept. 1, the L.A. Times’ Web site ran this flashback, which featured Guthman’s work in the aftermath of the Watts riots in 1965.

Another paper that benefited from Guthman’s contributions, The Seattle Times, ran this obit on Sept. 2.

Read more about Guthman’s remarkable life here at USC Annenberg’s Web site.

Finally, another journalist who counts Guthman as a major force in his life, Michael A. Stusser, recalled his mentor in this piece for The Seattle Times.

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Outraged's avatar

By Outraged, September 10, 2008 at 6:09 pm Link to this comment

Re: Virginia

Did ya get up on the wrong side of the bed or something….  What’s with your comment…?

Aside from that, I liked “commandment eight”.  “Commandment Eight is very simple: Never leave a baseball game until the last man is out.”

So timely….  We need to see this thing through ALL the way to the absolute end.  Maybe that’s where the good part of the game begins….

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By Thomas Billis, September 8, 2008 at 10:40 am Link to this comment

O great another first rate journalist dies to be replaced by the shit we call journalist now.If there is a god in heavan please deliver us an Ed R. Morrow in our time of need.Amen

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Virginia777's avatar

By Virginia777, September 8, 2008 at 10:26 am Link to this comment

I wonder if Guthman was aware of what appears to me to be the alarming new state of journalistic ethics at the USC Annenberg school for Communications?

Remember, Michael Parks - disgraced (by scandal) former L.A. Times editor - became director of the school from 2002-2008.

I wrote here about their insubstantial guide to “online media ethics”:

“...look, what essential media ethic’s issues are left off of this list!

- Racism

- Hate

- Bashing

- Harassment

- Any mention of the validity of Anonymous bloggers (therefore the assumption that they are equal in weight to those who provide their real names - i.e. disclosure)

- Decency [not a peep about this]

In general, this “online media ethics” list makes not a single reference to anything involving how we need to behave as a community.

This is supposedly addressing ethics, yet this list does not reflect our community’s most important one - to treat each other fairly.”

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