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Gene Methvin, American journalist and magazine editor, died he was 77

Eugene Hilburn “Gene” Methvin  was an American pilot, journalist, and senior editor for the Reader’s Digest Washington, D.C., bureau. A self-described “shoe leather reporter,” Methvin contributed more than 100 articles to Reader’s Digest and its 48 editions, reaching more than 100 million readers worldwide died he was 77.. His articles covered topics ranging from the U.S. Supreme Court, civil liberties and constitutional law, to U.S. defense posture, Kremlin politics, U.S.-Soviet relations, organized crime and international terrorist groups.[1] An article by Methvin in the January 1965 Reader’s Digest,
“How the Reds Make a Riot,” won the magazine the coveted award for
public service in magazine journalism given annually by the Society for
Professional Journalists.[2]

(September 19, 1934 – January 19, 2012)

Methvin’s work on communism, crime and corruption earned him not only the respect of his peers, but influence in government. His articles in Reader’s Digest helped rally necessary support for legislation that would go on to become law and, in 1983, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan
to the President’s Commission on Organized Crime. Methvin supervised
the commission’s investigation and hearing on labor-management
racketeering. Marvin Wolfgang, past president and fellow of the American
Society of Criminology, wrote of Methvin, “No journalist or reporter
knows more about criminology.”[1]
Along with his work with Reader’s Digest, Methvin also authored two books: The Riot Makers: The Technology of Social Demolition, 1970, and The Rise of Radicalism: The Social Psychology of Messianic Extremism, 1973.
In 1995, the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
named Methvin to its “Hall of Fame” for “exemplary professional
achievements, outstanding service to other members of the profession and
lifelong dedication to the highest standards of journalism.”

Early life

Methvin was born in Vienna, Georgia to Claude M. Methvin, Jr. and Madge Hilburn Methvin, editors and publishers of a local paper, The Vienna News.
Methvin began his journalism education by sleeping on a bale of
newsprint every Thursday night while his parents met the weekly
deadline. At the age of four, he got into a bucket of ink behind the
family’s flatbed cylinder press, and not even a gasoline bath could get
all the printer’s ink out of him. He started as a reporter (leg man
only) before he could write, for at the age of five he would wander
around the streets of his home town with pad and pencil asking residents
to write down their news for him. Vienna, with a population of 2000,
was a two-newspaper town in those days, chiefly as a result of his
father’s differences with a number of courthouse officials over a
lynching, expressed in front-page editorials. Once while covering his
beat, young Methvin encountered an assembly of grownups in one store
gathered around the cracker barrel, and they offered a number of
humorous quotes about the alleged superiorities of the opposition
newspaper. Reporter Methvin promptly provided editorial comment: “Y’all
are just a bunch of old damn fools,” he declared. Whereupon he looked up
and saw the town’s Baptist preacher standing in the circle, so he
quickly amended his copy: “All ‘cep you, ’cause you work in the
church-house,” he said. Which, the preacher later declared from the
pulpit, proved the youngster would make a good editor “because he knows
who to call a damn fool and who to let alone.” [3]
Growing up in Vienna in the 1930s and 1940s had a major impact on
Methvin’s work throughout his life. Methvin’s parents published The
Vienna News, known for its opposition to Jim Crow laws. Methvin’s
parents received death threats from Ku Klux Klan members for their
In his later years he would recall that, “as a young man I considered
myself a liberal, because I was against lynching. When I got to
Washington, to my surprise, I learned I was a conservative.”
Methvin studied journalism at the University of Georgia School of
Journalism. On campus he served as a member of the debate team and was a
four-year letterman on UGA’s football team under legendary coach,
Wallace Butts. He belonged to Sigma Nu fraternity, and the Society of
Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, which named him the
outstanding male graduate of 1955. He was also a member of Phi Beta
Kappa, and worked briefly as a reporter on the Atlanta Constitution. He
graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism degree, cum laude, with a
supplementary major and postgraduate study in law at the University of
Georgia School of Law.[3] As a journalism student, Methvin admired the works of H.L. Menken, doing a class project on Menken’s The American Mercury
After college, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Methvin would spend
three years as a jet fighter pilot flying the F-86 and F-102
all-weather interceptors.

Journalism career

In 1958 he joined the Washington Daily News as a general
assignment reporter. He did graduate study in philosophy and
international relations at the Youngstown, American and George
Washington Universities. In 1960 he joined the Reader’s Digest
Washington bureau, and served as associate editor and senior editor
until 1996. He then retired from full-time staff and became a
contributing editor until February 2002 when he ended his 42-year career
with the magazine.[3]
Methvin had a special interest for stories involving crime, corruption and the Cold War. Among Methvin’s favorite targets was labor unions.
“I consider myself fortunate to have been allowed to play the piccolo
in the great parade of American democracy for nearly half a century,”
Methvin wrote before his death. “During that time, the American people
defeated and brought down two evil empires: the Teamsters Union and the
Soviet Union, and I and my piccolo had a hand in both. That is enough
for me.” [5]
Methvin was the prime author of a series of hard-hitting Reader’s
Digest articles in 1970-72 that played a key role in shaping the federal
government’s war on organized crime. The proposed Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, including the famous “RICO” statute,
was snugly corked in committee in Congress, and Chairman Emmanuel
Cellar (D., N.Y.) of the House Judiciary Committee was determined to
kill it there. But so much mail poured in to Congress as a result of two
Methvin articles (“How the Mafia Preys on the Poor,” September ’70; and
“The Mafia War on the A&P,” July ’70) that a discharged petition
forced Celler to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote. “I’ve
got to get that blankety-blank Reader’s Digest off my back,” he
grumbled. When the bill passed overwhelmingly, 341 to 26, Sen. John McClellan,
its chief architect, expressed his thanks to Methvin for his
“especially significant contribution to the passage of this measure.”
And Attorney General John N. Mitchell sent him a pen used by President Richard Nixon
to sign the bill, expressing the Administration’s gratitude “for the
part you played in bringing this important crime legislation into
being.” Ironically, three years later it was this law’s limited
testimonial immunity provision that enabled the Senate Watergate Committee to compel White House Counsel John Dean to testify, leading ultimately to Mitchell’s subsequent imprisonment and President Nixon’s resignation.
Methvin and the Digest were sued for $4 million by an
organized crime figure named in one of his articles. After he presented
his documentation and deposition on his investigation, a New York State
judge dismissed the suit, declaring, “Documentation supplied by
defendants showed they acted responsibly in extensively investigating
all aspects of the story, which was imbued with legitimate public
concern.” Methvin declared he would have been happy to have the judge’s
ruling engraved on his tombstone.
Methvin also tackled the “religion” of Scientology in a 1980 article titled, “Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult”.[6]
His “swan song” was a July 2001 article about a rank-and-file
crusader who helped break the back of a corrupt racketeering
organization in the New York City employes union, American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employes Union District Council 37.[3]

Personal life

In 1959 Methvin married Barbara Lester of Byromville, Georgia,
and the couple had two daughters, Helen and Claudia. Barbara was killed
on March 31, 2000, by a speeding car as she crossed the road in front
of their home. In 2011, he established the Methvin Distinguished
Professorship in Southern Literature at the University of Georgia in her

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