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John Seigenthaler, Tennessee journalist, dies

Published on NewsOK Modified: July 11, 2014 at 4:24 pm •  Published: July 11, 2014
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In July 2002, Vanderbilt named the First Amendment Center's building The John Seigenthaler Center. And in August 2001, the university created a scholarship for minority students in Seigenthaler's name after he gave Vanderbilt $2 million.

Seigenthaler said then that the scholarship would stand as a testimony that the cost of education is a worthy endeavor.

"It is expensive, education," he said. "But we've tried ignorance so many ways, and it doesn't work."

A Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies at Middle Tennessee State University was endowed for $3 million in Seigenthaler's name in 1986. MTSU is located in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

Among his books was "A Search for Justice," a 1971 volume he co-wrote about the trials of people charged in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. He also wrote a book about James K. Polk, the nation's 11th president, for a series titled The American Presidents.

Seigenthaler worked in a variety of roles following his retirement. He served on the advisory boards of schools of journalism and communications at American University, the University of Tennessee and the University of Maryland.

He was among the first to raise questions about the accuracy of Wikipedia, writing an opinion piece about how he was defamed by a hoax biography posted on the site. The controversy led Wikipedia to change its procedures for posting content.

Seigenthaler was a member of the National Commission on Federal Election Reform organized in 2001. He also was a member of the Constitution Project Initiative on Liberty and Security, created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"A treasure for the nation," said Gene Policinski, chief operating officer at the Newseum Institute in Washington. "John was an extraordinary journalist and a passionate defender of those in need or facing discrimination."

In April 2014, the city of Nashville and a rights group honored Seigenthaler for his lifelong commitment to victims' causes. The city also renamed a downtown pedestrian bridge in honor of Seigenthaler, who prevented a suicidal man from jumping off the bridge 60 years ago when he was a Tennessean reporter.

"Today we lost an iconic figure in Nashville's history — a man who stood for inclusiveness long before it was synonymous with our city's culture. As a journalist, John did much more than bear witness to political and community affairs; he helped shape Nashville's story," said the city's mayor, Karl Dean.

He is survived by his wife, the former Dolores Watson, a professional singer, and their son, John Jr. The younger Seigenthaler is a former weekend anchor for NBC News in New York and joined Al Jazeera America in 2013.

A funeral is planned for Monday in Nashville.

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Online:

First Amendment Center: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org

The Freedom Forum: http://www.freedomforum.org