Obituaries

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist Edwin O. Guthman, 89

Edwin O. Guthman's reporting for the Seattle Times publicly cleared Mel Rader, a professor accused of communist sympathies.
Edwin O. Guthman's reporting for the Seattle Times publicly cleared Mel Rader, a professor accused of communist sympathies. (By Maggie Smith)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Edwin O. Guthman, 89, a Seattle Times journalist who won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for articles clearing a professor accused of communist sympathies, and who later held top editing positions at the Los Angeles Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, died Aug. 31 at his home in Los Angeles.

He had complications from amyloidosis, a condition of abnormal protein production and deposition in various organs.

Mr. Guthman spent the past 20 years teaching at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication. He wrote and co-edited three books about Robert F. Kennedy, whom he served as press secretary while Kennedy was U.S. attorney general in the early 1960s.

Mr. Guthman won the Pulitzer for national reporting for definitively clearing Mel Rader, a University of Washington philosophy professor whose accuser claimed to have taught him at a New York training camp for communists in summer 1938.

Mr. Guthman proved the state legislature committee investigating Rader had lost crucial evidence: a hotel registration, for example, that confirmed Rader's alibi of having spent the summer in question at a resort in Washington state. He then found other receipts to document Rader's innocence, and that led to the professor's public vindication.

"Just about everybody my age had been in the service, and most were in combat," he told the Seattle Times in 1998. "You saw what tyranny had done to those countries and you didn't want to see it happen here."

Edwin Otto Guthman, whose father was a grocery firm executive, was born in Seattle on Aug. 11, 1919. He majored in journalism at the University of Washington, where he was editor of the college daily.

During World War II, he served in the Army as a reconnaissance platoon leader in North Africa and Italy and led one of the first U.S. patrols into Rome in 1944. His decorations included the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, and he was featured in Tom Brokaw's 1998 book "The Greatest Generation."

Wallace Turner, a retired New York Times reporter who had known Mr. Guthman since the 1950s, said his friend only reluctantly revealed that he received the Silver Star for pulling wounded soldiers away from fire. Turner added that Mr. Guthman had made a point of underscoring his Judaism in front of captured German soldiers.

After winning the Pulitzer, Mr. Guthman remained with the Seattle Times and became part of a core of influential West Coast reporters who investigated racketeering and the labor movement and produced early exposés of the Teamsters union.

He used his extensive union contacts in the late 1950s to help Kennedy, then an investigator for the U.S. Senate rackets committee. In his book "The Enemy Within" (1960), Kennedy credited Mr. Guthman for providing leads and information to help build the successful corruption case against Dave Beck, a Seattle native who led the Teamsters.

Mr. Guthman then went to work for Kennedy as a spokesman. Despite that position, Mr. Guthman kept his reputation for journalistic integrity and conferred "a kind of instant legitimacy" on the Los Angeles Times when he was named its national editor in 1965, according to David Halberstam's book about the media elite, "The Powers That Be."


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