Commentary: When an authentic American hero was branded an 'enemy'

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Ed Guthman

If Ed Guthman were alive today, he'd likely be experiencing a sense of deja vu all over again.

He was a distinguished journalist and - for most of the 1980s - the editor of the Inquirer's editorial page.

He was a soft-spoken, tough-minded product of Seattle, hardly a coastal elitist; a Pulitzer Prize winner for stories that vindicated a University of Washington professor falsely accused of Communist links during the McCarthy era.

He was wounded fighting in Italy during World War II. He was in Oxford, Miss., an emissary of the Kennedy Justice Department, when rioters tried to block the enrollment of the University of Mississippi's first black student.

As an editor at the Los Angeles Times, he was also the driving force in 1972 pushing for the publication of an explosive LA Times story on the Watergate scandal: His reporters had scored an interview with the eyewitness who'd actually seen Republican operatives break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters - a dirty trick with eerie echoes of the email hacks of recent vintage.

By that time, the Nixon White House already had Guthman in its crosshairs, livid at his closeness to Bobby Kennedy, among other affronts. Nixon's paranoia was on red alert. He had Guthman added to his most revealing roster - his infamous 20-person Enemies List.

Nixon's special counsel had appended a chilling footnote, as Guthman's 2008 obituary reported. It said it was time "to give Guthman the message."

Guthman wasn't exactly happy about his listing. But he embraced it as a point of pride and a badge of honor: At Inquirer editorial board meetings he'd remind us on occasion, a wry smile lighting up his face: "I was Number Three."

When our current president declared - as he did last week - that the press was "the enemy of the American people," I could see that wry smile once again.

Ed Guthman had endured this slur long before. And like so many loyal journalists of his day who'd exposed government power run amok, uncovered the deceptions of the Vietnam War, and reported on the bloody battles for civil rights, he surely knew he was hardly an enemy of the American people.

He was quite the opposite, an authentic and intrepid patriot - a true American hero.

Rick Nichols served with Ed Guthman on the Inquirer editorial board. richard.nichols@comcast.net