A Lost Pioneer – Who Knew About This Woman?


This woman apparently has given Helen Thomas a run for her money as the woman reporter with the most chutzpah. As an AP reporter, she was first woman who worked the White House covering the administrations of six presidents from Eisenhower to Carter. Not only that but she worked for CNN as a “field producer and assignment editor.” She died yesterday.

I, for one, had never heard about her until I read this bit on TV Newser:

“Lewine was regarded as a trailblazer who battled for women’s rights in journalism, fighting to open the National Press Club and the Gridiron Club — a Washington journalists’ organization — to women,” CNN’s website says.

Last year, 2007, she received a medal from the Missouri School of Journalism – the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism. Listen to this – it’s from her acceptance speech.

“In times like these, when the credibility of our nation and our president often comes into question, it is the reporter on the scene that can raise issues and put the spotlight on problems so the nation can address them. Reporters should understand that they have an obligation to search for the truth and to stand in the front line in holding governments and officials accountable for their actions.

In fact here’s a write-up about Ms Lewine and the type of questioning she undertook while she stood on the front line. Read at the end of the action which apparently was the result of her line of questioning. On the eve of the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., the topic is quite fitting.

Many law professors, like Martha Fields, who teaches a “Women and the Law” course at Harvard, contend that courts are using a double standard to measure race and sex discrimination. Many public officials and much of the media suffer from this dual vision.

An illustration of this is the furor that ensued after Frances Lewine of the Associated Press asked President Ford a two-part question at a televised news conference. She wondered if he agreed with the guidelines laid down by his administration against federal officials patronizing segregated facilities. After Ford said that he did, she asked why he continued to play golf every week at the exclusive Burning Tree Country Club, which no longer barred blacks but still refused to admit women. Ford answered with a caustic quip about golfing and quickly took another question.

According to desk editors at the AP, the New York executives were upset that the question was even asked. Ms. Lewine says her subsequent removal from the AP’s White House staff may have dated back to that query. Ford’s Press Secretary, Ronald Nessen, in a book about his White House years, called her question “the worst misuse of a question at a presidential news conference to advocate a personal point of view.”

Like she is credited with saying:

“I don’t understand people who quit,” Lewine said in the newsletter article. “We have the best jobs in the world. I have a front-row seat to history. What are you going to do that’s possibly better than this?

There’s a wonderful photo of Ms Lewine with Jackie Kennedy at the Washington Post site with their obituary for Ms Lewine.

The photo directly below is taken from the D.C. Chapter of The Association for Women in Communications. Helen Thomas is in the center with Frances Lewine to her left. (Get a look at who’s standing next to the tall woman in yellow. See her? Recognize her?) The honorees here were Helen Thomas and J.C. Hayward, the tall woman in yellow standing next to Rita Crosby….


2 Responses

  1. WS-

    Regina and I met Frances several years ago at a dinner for columnists when Regina was president of the association. She and Helen Thomas were both there. It was incredible, at least for me. Bruce was out of town so I flew with RB to New York.

    We also met up with Brody – remember her from Cleveland Heights Sat. morning?

  2. Helen Thomas is still my hero! Go Ms Lewine!

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