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Pulitzer Center Update April 15, 2021

Reese Erlich (1947 – 2021)

Image of Reese Erlich

We were saddened to learn that Reese Erlich, a frequent Pulitzer Center grantee, died April 6 after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 73.

There was something old school about the way Reese tackled an assignment. Indeed, you could almost picture the press card tucked in the hatband of one of his trademark fedoras.

After first making his acquaintance a decade ago, the Pulitzer Center gave Reese a series of reporting grants that took him to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and several times to Iran. He brought a distinctly progressive voice to stories on U.S. foreign policy that appeared on CBS News, VICE, and in Vanity Fair, The Guardian, The NationForeign Policy, and, of course, The Progressive, where he had a regular column.

“Reese had an uncanny ability to get into places that most American journalists found hard to reach, from Tehran to Damascus,” recalled Jon Sawyer, the Pulitzer Center’s executive director. “Once on the scene he was prolific and smart, using his command of history and policy to gain access to senior government officials and dissidents alike. He was also a popular presence on our education circuit, as much at home in K-12 classrooms as in graduate-school seminars.”

Reese began his long career in journalism soon after his graduation from the University of California, Berkeley, with a stint at the legendary New Left magazine Ramparts. Over the years, his reporting won numerous awards, including top honors from the Society of Professional Journalists (North California) in 2012 for his radio documentary on the Syrian uprising and a Peabody in 2006 as a segment producer for Crossing East, a radio documentary on the history of Asians in the U.S.

His article about the U.S. use of depleted uranium ammunition was voted one of 2003's "most censored stories" by Project Censored at Sonoma State University—a point of pride for a journalist with a lifelong commitment to questioning the gatekeepers of conventional wisdom.   

Reese’s book Target Iraq, co-authored with Norman Solomon, was a bestseller in 2003. He followed that with a succession of books on foreign policy. His book The Iran Agenda Today: The Real Story from Inside Iran and What's Wrong with U.S. Policy was published in 2018.

In his final column for The Progressive, which appeared less than two weeks before his death, Reese was his usual unflappable self.  “I don’t know how long I will live. Doctors, unlike bookies, are reluctant to lay odds,” he told his readers. “Messages of sympathy are trickling in. They begin, ‘I’m so sorry to hear …’ These I don’t need. Send jokes and anecdotes, instead. The staff at The Progressive even sent oatmeal cookies.”

His departing wish: “I hope I’ve helped explain some complicated world issues you might not otherwise have understood. I hope the activism earlier in my life and my writing and speeches later have helped bring about progressive change.” 

Here at the Pulitzer Center, our friend Reese Erlich’s unique voice will be missed.