NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · FLORIDA · Newsgathering · June 17, 2005
Stalwart Reporters Committee supporter Gene Miller dies
June 17, 2005 · Gene Edward Miller, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who persuaded his boss, John S. Knight, to write a $150,000 check to The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in its early days, died Friday. He was 76.
“I don’t know exactly how to write this letter. I feel a little awkward,” Miller wrote Knight in June 1978, seeking funding for the financially struggling committee, founded in 1970. In the letter to Knight, editor emeritus of Knight-Ridder Newspapers Inc., Miller said funding the Reporters Committee was crucial because many other newspapers would not hire “saber-toothed” lawyers to defend free press rights.
“The danger is the bad law that evolves from smaller and less adept papers and reporters who can’t fight, don’t fight or fight badly — and lose for us all,” Miller wrote. “Here, I think, the Reporters Committee will be a crucial force in the survival of a free press for a long time to come.” He called the Committee “one vital means to keep things from going haywire.”
Six months later, the Knight Foundation gave the Committee $150,000, the largest it had ever received.
“For an organization like ours in one room with a couple of law students, it was quite a tremendous amount,” Jack Landau, former director of the Reporters Committee said Friday. “We were running around getting furniture from the alleys on 18th Street that all the big law firms were throwing out.”
In 1972, Landau asked Miller, whom he met in 1967 when both were Nieman fellows at Harvard University, to join the Steering Committee, where he remained for 24 years.
“Gene was always on the side of being a First Amendment guerilla,” Landau said.
Miller died at his home in South Miami, Fla., from cancer, his family told The Miami Herald, where Miller reported and edited for 48 years. He was “the soul and the conscience of our newsroom,” the paper reported on its Web site.
Miller’s first Pulitzer, in 1967, was for two investigations that freed Joe Shea and Mary Katherin Hampton, who were wrongly convicted of two separate murders.
His second Pulitzer, in 1976, came after eight years of reporting on Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, who had twice been tried for murder, wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death. Miller’s reporting led to freedom for Pitts and Lee. Miller gave the Reporters Committee his entire $1,000 Pulitzer Prize stipend.
Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy Dalglish praised Miller for so clearly understanding the importance of journalists leading the effort to protect the public’s right to know.
“Gene Miller was one of the Reporters Committee’s earliest and staunchest supporters,” she said. “Although he was based in Miami, he had an impact on reporting throughout the country.”
Former Reporters Committee Executive Director Jane E. Kirtley remembered Miller’s “almost irrepressible sense of humor. He didn’t take much seriously, except freedom of the press and journalism.”
In his self-written obituary, published Friday on the Herald’‘s Web site, www.miamiherald.com, Miller wrote: “In lieu of flowers, have a martini. Try Boodles gin.”
His family suggested that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Reporters Committee.