David Lewis was the first CNN employee to receive a Nieman and has worked throughout the broadcast news business. His father, Anthony Lewis, who died in March of this year, was a New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer winner. Both were Harvard undergrads
I didn’t tell my father that I was applying for a Nieman. I guess I wanted it to be a surprise if I was accepted, and I’m sure I wanted it all to go away if I didn’t get that early-morning acceptance call from Bill Kovach. Being in the same line of work as an overachieving parent produces many such idiotic behaviors.
Our careers couldn’t have been more different. Scotty Reston of The New York Times “sent” my father to do the Nieman. I had to persuade CNN to let me apply. He worked at the Times for 50 years while I’ve hopped all over the TV news world. He spent his Nieman year ensconced at the Law School while I dove into subjects like Conflict Resolution and Criminal Law, took piano lessons, and an undergrad acting class. He left Cambridge and went straight to cover the Supreme Court. When I told my boss I was coming back, his response was: “Great! We really need you on O.J.”
I think the whole Nieman year was a “moment” for my dad. The announcement of the new Fellows made clear the mission he was on. It said he would “study law with special reference to the Supreme Court.” He fell in love with the law and found a direction for a journalism career that would focus so much on the rules humanity either lives by or chooses to ignore: the law, human rights, issues of simple right and wrong. If there was a single moment, perhaps it was writing a Law Review article that later showed up in the footnotes of a decision by Justice William Brennan.
I had many moments as I jumped around campus. One was in Father J. Bryan Hehir’s Divinity School class, The Use of Force. Most of the students were diplomats or military officers, and I was struck to see them trying to put their very lives in context by learning from a priest/professor. Ron Heifetz’s leadership class at the Kennedy School was a brutal and valuable learning experience that culminated in him pulling me in front of the class and making me “sing” with him.
Another musical memory I’d rather forget is a couple of classmates and I getting booed offstage in Nashville after attempting to sing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”
A far better recollection is the time a cute coed asked me after the acting class what my major was. Of course, the greatest moments were with classmates and with Kovach and knowing that I’d been admitted to the adult fraternity of Niemans.
But come to think of it, the most significant Nieman moment for me actually happened during my father’s year. The first line of my application essay was: “I was conceived during my father’s Nieman year.” Now that was a moment.