Investigative journalist Robert W. Greene, who led reporters from across the country in an effort to uncover corruption in Arizona and who twice helped Newsday win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, died Thursday at age 78.
Greene, who spent 37 years as a reporter and then editor for Newsday, died in a Smithtown hospital of complications including congestive heart failure, the newspaper reported. He had been ill for some time.
“His doggedness in pursuit of hidden information inspires reporters here at Newsday, and across the country, to this day,” said the paper’s editor, John Mancini.
The longtime journalist won his first Pulitzer in 1970, for exposing land scandals in a Long Island town. Four years later, he helped a team of reporters win for a series that traced heroin from growing fields in Turkey to the streets of Long Island.
In 1976, Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was killed by a car bomb as he worked to expose organized crime. Greene, who had helped found the Investigative Reporters and Editors group, led a team of volunteers from the organization in a five-month project to complete the slain reporter’s work.
At the time, he told the IRE board the project could make people “think twice” about killing journalists.
“We are buying life insurance on our own reporters,” he said, according to IRE’s Web site.
The project sparked resistance from some in the journalism community who did not believe reporters should crusade on behalf of one of their own. The work of the reporters, some of whom used their vacation time for the project, resulted in a 23-part series that was published around the country. More than a quarter-century later, the IRE continues as an important teaching organization.
Former Newsday editor Howard Schneider recalled Greene as an imposing figure.
“For much of his career, he could outthink, out-hustle, out-report, outeat, outdrink and outwork any other journalist in the country,” Schneider said in an e-mail. “But if his excesses were occasionally unbridled, they were driven by his passion to get a good story and root out the bad guys.”
Before arriving at Newsday in 1955, Greene was a staff investigator for the New York City Anti-Crime Committee. At the request of Robert Kennedy, he took a yearlong break from the paper in 1957 to become an investigator for the U.S. Senate Rackets Committee.
Survivors include Greene’s wife, Kathleen Greene, and his son, Robert Greene Jr.
Greene’s daughter, Lea Greene, was killed in 1989 during a break-in at her home.