2-time Pulitzer-winning reporter for Chicago Tribune dies

AP News
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Posted: Jul 21, 2016 4:12 PM
2-time Pulitzer-winning reporter for Chicago Tribune dies

CHICAGO (AP) — William Gaines, who won two Pulitzer Prizes as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, has died. He was 82.

Gaines, who battled Parkinson's disease for 15 years, died Wednesday morning in hospice care in Munster, Indiana, his daughter, Michelle, said Thursday.

Gaines, who spent 38 years at the Tribune, was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its work that uncovered "widespread abuse in federal housing programs in Chicago, and which exposed shocking conditions at two private Chicago hospitals," according to the award citation.

One of the most shocking discoveries came from Gaines' reporting when, while working undercover as a janitor, he not only mopped and threw away garbage but, while still wearing his janitor's uniform, was called on to help doctors and nurses in surgery.

"The experience was frightening to me; it was depressing, for I knew that it was not just a fluke that I, a janitor, had been called on to do the work of trained orderlies and nurses' aides," Gaines wrote in a column.

Twelve years later, Gaines and two other reporters, including Dean Baquet, who is now executive editor of the New York Times, were awarded a Pulitzer for what the citation said was "their detailed reporting on the self-interest and waste that plague Chicago's City Council."

Gaines won praise from fellow reporters for his ability to decipher complicated government documents. But they said it was his soft-spoken and unassuming personality that helped make him a great reporter.

"For all his accomplishments and awards and brilliance, he was so nonchalant, so unpretentious. People underestimated him," said Howard Reich, a Tribune critic who with Gaines co-authored "Jelly's Blues: The Life, Music and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton."

After Gaines retired from the Tribune in 2001, he taught journalism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There, he led a group of students in an investigation to uncover the identity of the anonymous source known only as "Deep Throat," who leaked secrets about President Richard Nixon's Watergate cover-up to the Washington Post.

The group concluded — mistakenly, as it turned out — that the source was onetime deputy White House counsel Fred Fielding. But later, when the family of a former FBI official named W. Mark Felt said that Felt had, in fact, been "Deep Throat," Gaines owned up to his mistake, said his daughter.

"He told me, 'We were wrong,'" she said. "He didn't make excuses."

Besides his daughter, Gaines is survived by his wife, Nellie, sons Michael and Matthew and six grandsons, according to his daughter.