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Sunday, September 26, 2021

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News + PoliticsForeign CorrespondentReese Erlich, foreign correspondent and radical reporter, is dead at 73

Reese Erlich, foreign correspondent and radical reporter, is dead at 73

After a life of progressive politics, ground-breaking journalism, and social activism, a legendary writer loses battle with cancer.


Reese Erlich, who was a writer, producer, speaker and unapologetic left-wing critic of US foreign policy for half a century, died April 6 after a difficult battle with cancer.

Reese was our Foreign Correspondent. He was also an old friend and staunch supporter of 48hills.

In the trenches: Reese was fearless and went where the story took him.

I can’t even remember when I first met Reese. It was in the early 1980s, when I was a young reporter for the Bay Guardian and he was a young (although older than me) freelance writer who reported from all over the world.

I think we met through Media Alliance, an organization of journalists in San Francisco; he was covering the US involvement in El Salvador and Nicaragua for Monitor Radio (and doing a way better job than The New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, which had way more resources).

When I became a Bay Guardian editor, I hired him as a media critic. He was relentless – but also scrupulously accurate and fair. Lots of critics like to blast their subjects from a high throne; Reese was a labor guy, a working reporter, and when he took issue with what other reporters were doing, he called them to talk about it.

In all the years we worked together, I don’t think I ever had to run a correction on a Reese Erlich story. He got the details right.

Reese has a deep courage of his convictions. He was unafraid to go into danger, to countries where he might be arrested or worse, to get the story.

He loved teaching young reporters the trade, as a journalism professor at Cal State East Bay and advisor to the student paper, and later at the University of San Francisco.

When he told me he had cancer, he had one request: Don’t send condolences. “What am I supposed to do with 50 emails saying I’m sorry you’re dying?” he said. He faced his final battle with the same spirit and sense of humor he showed in his life:

Here are just some of the advantages of dying while still coherent:

You can tell tele-marketers what you really think of them.

You can tell mainstream media editors what you really think of them.

You can binge watch everything on Netflix while eating multiple bowls of ice cream.

You can die peacefully in your sleep as did grandpa, not yelling and screaming like the passengers in his car. (Full disclosure: This an old joke.)

The Progressive has a nice obit here, with info on celebrating his life. Rest in Power, my friend.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. There hasn’t been much mention of Reese as a jazz critic and commentator, but that’s how I first met him. In addition to articles about jazz, Reese recorded intelligent and friendly interviews with prominent jazz artists which were broadcast over KCSM-FM. The last time I chatted with him was at a press luncheon for the Montreal Jazz Festival, a couple of years ago. I made a point of complimenting him on his appearances as a Mid-East reporter for KPFA-FM. Characteristically, he was modest and genial. I wish I’d had more social time with this remarkable colleague.

  2. His wide view and deep understanding revolving around the many complexities in the Middle East, paired with his knack for writing simply and concisely, was much appreciated by this reader. My sympathies to his friends and family.

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