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OBITUARIES | Kenneth Reich, 1938 - 2008

L.A. Times reporter covered '84 Olympics

July 01, 2008|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Kenneth Reich, a retired Los Angeles Times reporter who, in his 39 years at the paper, covered politics, earthquakes and preparations for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, has died. He was 70.

Reich, who had been in failing health the last several years with diabetes and heart disease, died in his sleep Monday at his home in Sherman Oaks, said his daughter Kathleen.

Hired by The Times in 1965, Reich was initially a reporter in the Westside bureau. He later covered the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, George Wallace, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. He also served as Atlanta bureau chief from 1970-72, was briefly editor of the Op-Ed page in 1972, and spent the next five years as a political writer.

In 1977, while continuing to report on politics, he began a seven-year stint covering Los Angeles' efforts to capture and host the 1984 Olympic Games -- an assignment his daughter said he considered his greatest professional accomplishment.

"When Los Angeles won the bid to host the 1984 Summer Olympics, Ken went after the story like a bulldog . . ," Frank O. Sotomayor, Reich's former editor on Metro coverage of the Games, said in an e-mail Monday.

"Aware of the financial debacle of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, his aggressive reporting ensured that the L.A. taxpayers would not foot the bill for the Games," Sotomayor said.

Bill Dwyre, The Times' sports editor from 1981 to 2006 and now a sports columnist for the paper, said Reich reported every aspect of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, from finances to site selection -- as well as writing stories about how the Olympics would affect traffic, the local economy and pollution.

Noting that a privately financed Olympics was highly unusual, Dwyre said committee President Peter Ueberroth "started with nothing, and he had to work to get sponsorships and get advances from the TV networks. That's what he used to pay the bills."

The committee's goal "was to just break even and present a great Games to the city," Dwyre said.

But Reich kept doing financial projections, he said, "and his reports predicted that the L.A. Olympics would turn a rather sizable profit." The Games earned more than $200 million.

"It was one of his best reporting coups," Dwyre said.

Reich, who wrote the book "Making It Happen: Peter Ueberroth and the 1984 Olympics," continued working in the sports department for a couple of years after the Olympics, doing business-related sports reporting.

Harvey Rosenfield, author of Proposition 103, the landmark 1988 initiative that rolled back and regulated all insurance rates in California, witnessed Reich's hard work as a reporter.

"There was so much confusion over the tens of millions of dollars the insurance industry was spending against Proposition 103, and there were four other competing initiatives, and nobody knew which one was truly in the best interest of the public," said Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit.

"Ken covered that campaign day by day, week after week, for a year. Every reporter in California followed Ken's coverage. And, in my view, if it weren't for the unbelievable tenacity and textbook journalism that Ken Reich did, Proposition 103 would not have passed. He was the quintessential journalist."

Times colleagues remember Reich for being an outspoken presence in the newsroom.

Media columnist James Rainey recalled, "All of us who sat in Ken's orbit would be both entertained and, occasionally, appalled by the high decibel rants that he would employ on sources."

One afternoon, Rainey recalled, "Ken uncorked on one caller for a good two or three minutes, then took a breath to allow her a short rebuttal, which he quickly countered with this: 'My good woman, I did not call you a Nazi. I called you a fascist. There is a big difference.' Then he hung up."

Reich was born in Los Angeles on March 7, 1938, and began his journalism career at 14 as a sports reporter for the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

He received a bachelor's degree in government from Dartmouth College in 1960 and a master's degree in political science from UC Berkeley in 1962.

He worked in UPI's Sacramento bureau from 1962-63 and was a reporter for Life magazine from 1963-65.

He retired from The Times in 2004.

More recently, he launched a blog -- takebackthetimes.blogspot.com -- that advocated returning The Times to local ownership.

"He also expanded it to comment on politics," said his daughter, adding that he posted his last blog entry at 12:20 a.m. Monday.

Two hours later, in one of his last e-mails, Reich wrote to Dean Baquet, The Times' former editor who is now at the New York Times, suggesting that Baquet look at the series of blogs he recently had written "on 75 L.A. Times staff members who have lost their jobs under Tribune."

Said Kathleen Reich on Monday: "My father was absolutely passionate that the mission of journalism was to bring the truth to people. And he worked tirelessly -- and outspokenly -- to that end, up to the last day of his life."

In addition to his daughter, Reich, who was divorced, is survived by his son, David; his sister, Carolyn Shadduck;and two grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Mt. Sinai Hollywood Hills, 5950 Forest Lawn Drive.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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