Anthony Lewis, a former New York Times reporter and columnist, author, and longtime advocate for free speech and justice, has died at the age of 85. A Nieman Fellow in the class of 1957, Lewis was a constitutional law expert whose groundbreaking coverage of the Supreme Court changed the way complex legal matters are reported in the United States.
My voice shook every time I picked up the phone, expecting Anthony Lewis—I didn’t dare call him Tony then—to be on the other end of the line. It was the mid ’90s and I was an intern learning how to be a producer at Boston public radio station WBUR. Every now and then, I would be responsible for booking Lewis for conversations with our morning show host that would be loosely based on his latest New York Times op-ed column. Lewis was the equivalent of a journalism god; I never spoke to him in those days in a normal tone of voice.
He was gracious when we called, but also impatient. He didn’t suffer fools lightly. If the host wasn’t prepared or had misunderstood something in the column, Tony was not the kind of guest to cover for the anchor’s mistake. He’d set us straight, as he did his colleagues, his readers, and leaders around the world.
After Tony retired and I became a reporter, I didn’t have reason to call on him anymore. So I was delighted when he showed up to some events during my Nieman year. “That’s Tony Lewis,” the whisper went around the room at the opening reception for fellows. I got up the courage to say hi and reintroduce myself. He pretended to remember me, offered some suggestions for the year, and left an open invitation for guidance. I took him up on it, but not as often as I now wish I had. Still, every time I start a new notepad I write one of his suggestions inside the front cover: “Ask the question you’re afraid to ask.”
Martha Bebinger, a 2010 Nieman Fellow, is a reporter for Boston public radio station WBUR.
Remembering Anthony Lewis by Bob Giles
Read Anthony Lewis’s work published in Nieman Reports