Miles Corwin: Veteran Journalist

JASON DAVIS/New University

“Miles Corwin is a best-selling author who’s written several books about the LAPD.” This was the introduction freelance writer and UC Irvine’s literary journalism professor Miles Corwin received from Dateline NBC last Friday night. Corwin, who served as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times for most of his 20 years there, was brought on to comment on a 1990s cold case from the Los Angeles Police Department.

The longtime reporter now teaches and conveys his experiences to aspiring journalists, while providing a vast array of fascinating stories to relate to his students. These accounts range from being in the same room as the autopsy of Nicole Brown Simpson (the murdered wife of O.J. Simpson), tailing LAPD detectives Pete Razanskas and Marcella Winn during a harsh period of crime in South Central LA for his first book, “The Killing Season” and recently being invited to Washington D.C. as a guest of President Barack Obama.

On Aug. 23, 1993, Corwin wrote an article in the LA Times titled, “When Friendship Is The Only Thing That Matters.” The story was written in response to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” controversy.

Corwin, the son of a World War II veteran, wrote that his father (Lloyd) served in Western Europe as part of the 80th division of Patton’s 3rd Army. During the Battle of the Bulge, Private Lloyd Corwin (deceased just months prior to the article) slipped and fell head over heels 40 feet down an icy ravine while being fired upon by the Germans. As the other soldiers in his battalion bolted, Lloyd’s friend Andy Lee crawled down the ravine and shook Lloyd until he was able to walk and escape alive.

Lloyd and Andy both survived, but fell out of contact following the war because Andy could not reveal a secret to his friend. Many years later, the two men reconnected and became friends after meeting for lunch with their significant others. Lloyd brought his wife. Andy brought a man. Andy was a war hero, a World War II veteran and a homosexual. After years of being apart, Andy reached out to Lloyd, because times had changed and Andy felt more comfortable revealing to his war buddy that he was gay.

As Corwin explained in his article, “If it wasn’t for one gay in the military, my father never would have survived the war, and I never would’ve been born.”

“Bravery and valor has no sexual orientation,” Corwin said. “I wrote a story about it and it never got attention. It had one letter to the editor, complaining about me using the term ‘hillbillies’ to describe the men in their division.”

On the afternoon of Dec. 21, 2010, 17 years after the article was published, Corwin was contacted by a researcher for the White House’s Speech Department. President Obama was expected to give a speech the next morning before repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law and he wanted not only permission to tell Corwin’s story of Lloyd Corwin and Andy Lee, but to have Corwin come out to Washington D.C. to be in attendance.

“[The speech] was at 9 a.m. on the 22nd, so I took a redeye flight out,” Corwin said.

Once Corwin touched down in the nation’s capitol, he was driven to the Department of the Interior. He assumed his position in the front row of the audience, just seats down from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, as President Obama took the microphone.

“You know, 66 years ago, in the dense, snow-covered forests of Western Europe,” President Obama said at the onset of his speech, “Allied forces were beating back a massive assault in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.”

President Obama explained the story of Lloyd and Andy before saying, “Lloyd’s son is with us today … what made it possible for [his father] to survive the battle fields of Europe is the reason why we are here today. That’s the reason we are here today,” he said before signing the bill into a law.

“It was not so much about me, but my dad,” an honored Corwin said. “The opportunity was for my father. I’m proud of my father. He was a regular guy, a working stiff and it was an honor to have his war service mentioned.”

Corwin completed his undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara with a major in English and received an M.A. at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Following his graduation, he wrote 95 letters to each newspaper in the state of California requesting a job. One newspaper responded: Torrance’s The Daily Breeze.

“They all wanted me,” Corwin said humorously in reflection.

Besides his first opportunity in Torrance, throughout his career Corwin has worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the San Jose Mercury before spending a larger portion of time at the LA Times.

As a crime reporter for the LA Times, his experiences were extraordinary. He was on the witness stand of the Robert Blake murder case, interviewed and prepared the obituary for Theodor Geisel (author of the Dr. Seuss series) before his death and he was even called upon to write sports stories because of his college water polo background at UCSB during the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

While researching for “The Killing Season” in the early 90s, Corwin would exit his car in the ghettos of South Central at 7:30 a.m. before the Crips and Bloods awoke. Dressed like a businessman, he was out of place, but risked his safety to ensure a well-rounded perspective in his nonfiction book about the effects of senseless murders. He interviewed victims’ families to get their stories out and to attempt to understand the grief of losing a loved one during a time of genocide in South Central.

“Reporting is the first draft of history,” Corwin said. “You get to experience so many things.”

Corwin currently teaches True Crime and Immersion Journalism at UCI while working on his fifth book. “The Killing Season” was a national bestseller; “And Still We Rise” was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year and “Homicide Special” was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. His fourth book was his first work of fiction, a novel titled, “Kind of Blue,” which was released in November.

“I always envisioned myself teaching,” Corwin said. “At a certain point, I didn’t want to write for a daily paper anymore. Teaching is a perfect complement to writing books. I like working with students. It’s interesting and helps me think.”

As Corwin reflected back on his career and the recent experience in Washington D.C., he said, “My dad had such dramatic experiences [in the war]. I was never in the service, but I was always searching for my own adventures.”

The crime reporter brought voices to minority families in South Central that had been often disregarded in the media because of the vastness of the murders taking place in the metaphorical battlefields of Los Angeles. He had a successful career in a competitive newspaper industry that has slowly decayed with the emergence of the Internet. And now, he’s inspiring potential journalists, lawyers and detectives in his classes. Corwin may not have worn an Army helmet, but like his father, he’s a normal guy, a working stiff and he has most certainly served the common people.