Tim Rutten, longtime Times columnist and editor with a knack for original thinking, dies

Tim Rutten, a longtime Times columnist and editor whose ability to unravel the many mysteries and contradictions of Los Angeles won legions of admirers, has died.

A deep thinker with an impish sense of humor, Rutten was found dead on Thursday after falling at his Alhambra home, his ex-wife said, criminal defense attorney Leslie Abramson noted. He was 72 years old.

Over a 40-year career, Rutten has moved seamlessly through the Times newsroom – city bureau chief, subway reporter, columnist, deputy national editor, book reviewer and columnist. He was part of the Times reporting team that won the Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper’s coverage of the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

“Original in thought and lyrical in print, his work is witty, well-reported, impassioned, yet decidedly non-partisan,” Times writer Tom Curwen wrote in Rutten’s 2005 Pulitzer nomination for comment.

Rutten has used his “About the Media” column to unravel the complexities of Los Angeles, the national culture wars and the eccentricities of media stars.

He slammed news agencies for downplaying the horrors of war by refusing to publish the chilling photos of the torture that took place at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He proposed that the deadliest weapon created by mankind was not the nuclear bomb but the assault rifle and that the Kobe Bryant rape case in Colorado underscored the two-tier justice system of the country – one for celebrities and the other for the rest of us.

A native of San Bernardino, Rutten attended Cal State Los Angeles but dropped out when he landed a job at the San Gabriel News athletic desk. He joined The Times in 1972 as editor of the newspaper’s former View section and left the paper in 2011 during a series of layoffs. He then worked as a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News.

“He gave up because he was already a journalist. Why sit in a classroom when you could be in a real newsroom? Abramson said. “He was almost entirely self-taught.”

Steve Wasserman, a former Times editor, recalled that Rutten always seemed like the adult in the room. Accustomed to wearing three-piece suits and bow ties, he smoked a pipe and carved out a striking image as he drove to work in his 1962 Porsche.

“He also had a flexible political intelligence and could analyze the behind-the-scenes dealings of the city’s power brokers as though he were front row at a papal conclave,” Wasserman wrote in a Facebook reminiscence.

John Arthur, the paper’s former editor, said he came to appreciate Rutten’s “wit and wisdom” while working at the Times national desk.

“I later became a devoted reader of his weekly column, where he served up brilliant and scholarly analyzes of current events and the state of the world,” Arthur said.

Rutten also got a Hollywood footnote when NBC released “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” a miniseries about Abramson’s defense of Lyle and Erik Menendez, who killed their parents in the one of many high-profile murder cases in Los Angeles. Edie Falco, who starred in “The Sopranos,” played Abramson and Chris Bauer, known for his role in “The Wire,” played Rutten.

Rutten is survived by one son, Aidan Conor Rutten; one daughter-in-law, Laine Abramson; one brother, Tom; and a sister, Paula.

Comments are closed.