William James Eaton (BSJ51, MSJ52)

  • Young, William James Eaton

  • William James Eaton

William Eaton’s stories led to the rejection of one of President Richard Nixon’s Supreme Court nominees. Congress rejected Clement Haynesworth, and Eaton won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

The series of articles landed him on Nixon’s enemies list, a point of pride for Eaton.

Eaton enjoyed telling the story of how he discovered he had won the Pulitzer. On the day the awards were announced, he was doing some research at Columbia University. He did not know that the Chicago Daily News had nominated his work, but since he was on campus he walked over to see who won. When he saw his own name on the list, he was at first disbelieving and then joyous. He described himself leaving the campus and literally dancing down Broadway.

Eaton grew up in Chicago and attended Lane Technical High School where he wrote for the Lane Daily. While at Medill, he worked for Chicago’s City News Bureau and the Daily Northwestern. He would later win the Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern.

After a two-year stint in the Army, Eaton took the train to Washington D.C. to visit a friend from Medill, Frank Cormier. He left Chicago on a blustery March day and emerged from Union Station in Washington to find warmth and blooming spring flowers. He decided right then that Washington was the place for him.

Later Eaton and Cormier wrote a biography of labor leader, Walter Reuther. It was published in the same year that he won the Pulitzer Prize, 1970.

In Washington, Eaton worked first for UPI, then the Chicago Daily News, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, and the Los Angeles Times. In 1983, he asked for a foreign assignment. The L.A. Times made him New Delhi bu­reau chief and then Moscow bureau chief. Before head­ing to Moscow in 1984, Eaton learned Russian, which allowed him to talk with ordinary citizens about the “perestroika” reform process led by Mikhail Gorbachev. Colleagues remember him chatting with Russians while they waited in line for their vodka allotments.

On his return from the former Soviet Union, Eaton covered Congress where he served as Chairman of the Standing Committee of Correspondents. He was also a leader of the Reporters’ Committee for a Free Press and the Washington Press Club.

Eaton finished his career as the curator of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship in Journalism at the Univer­sity of Maryland.

His ebullient personality was an asset whether he was reporting on politics, economics or the ordinary people they affect. One colleague recalled never see­ing Eaton read the paper while in the office. He was too busy writing or working sources on the phone.

William James Eaton died in 2005. He is survived by his wife Carole Kennon and daughter Sally Misare.