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Frances Lewine

Birthplace: New York, New York, United States
Death: Died in Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Ralph Victor Lewine and Pearl Winola Lewine
Sister of Robert M. (Morris) Lewine

Managed by: Robin Lent
Last Updated:

About Frances Lewine

Covered the White House for The Associated Press during six presidential administrations and spent nearly three decades as a CNN editor and producer.

January 20, 2008 Blitzer, Kurtz, and Sesno remember Frances Lewine CNN Washington D.C. Bureau assignment editor and field producer Frances Lewine died yesterday, one day before her 87th birthday. Lewine worked had worked at CNN since 1981, joining soon after the network launched.

CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer” remembered Fran on-air today with photo and video tributes. Below are transcripts of those segments from both shows. A article also commemorates the life and work of Fran Lewine.

From CNN’s “Reliable Sources”:

KURTZ: Fran Lewine died yesterday. She was one of the unsung figures in journalism, a longtime producer here at CNN, 86 years old.

She worked at the AP for decades. And joining me to talk about her career is Frank Sesno, special CNN correspondent and professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University.

She started in this business in 1942 at “The New York Daily News.” Not a lot of women in the news business at that time.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I was struck this morning. You were talking to Linda Douglass, Jill Zuckman and Gloria Borger, three women.

They’re here on the shoulders of Fran Lewine.

When Frank Lewine came to Washington, and when Fran Lewine started covering the first administration — the first of six she covered — Dwight Eisenhower’s administration — women were relegated to covering teas and socials, and things like that. Women were relegated to the balcony at the National Press Club.


KURTZ: And she challenged that.

SESNO: She challenged it, she changed it. And she and Helen Thomas worked together to do that.

Helen Thomas has stayed very public, but in the latter part of Fran’s years, she moved here to CNN and she worked behind the scenes. But at 86 years old, she’s a producer. And she’s going out on stakeouts.

She was a regular. An icon, really, at the Sunday morning stakeouts. After the morning shows, she would go out with all these other young producers, stand by the cameras, and get these newsmakers as they would come out of CBS, “Face the Nation,” the others.

She was deferred to. She always got the first question there, Howie.

KURTZ: After all those years at the AP, how was it that she came to work for CNN in 1981?

SESNO: 1981, assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Fran Lewine was in town. CNN was a young, upstart network. Nobody had heard about it.

She walks in the door and she says, “I’m here to help.” She actually had information about the type of gun that John Hinckley used. She was brought on board, paid 80 bucks for that information, and shortly thereafter hired. And she stayed with CNN. She said, you’re going to have to fire me to get me out of here.

KURTZ: She was tough. And, you know, the fact that long past 80, most people would like to have retired, she stayed with the news business. I mean, it was almost like you couldn’t pry her out of that chair.

SESNO: She had a quiet resolve to her. She was an unbelievably gracious person. In fact, LBJ’s daughter, Lucy, said that Fran Lewine was there when she was married and she was there when Lyndon discovered America.

Bill Moyer said she was an exemplar, and the craft has lost a devoted exemplar. “Devoted” is the word to describe Fran. She believed passionately in what journalism could and should do, most particularly here in Washington — hold those in power to account. And I can’t remember a day when I was bureau chief here and we were thinking about, what are the stories going to be, what is the weekend going to be, when she wouldn’t come up and have an idea, something to pitch and a story to do, and questions to put to those who were in a position of responsibility.

KURTZ: There she is with David Bohrman, CNN’s Washington bureau chief. As you said, she covered the White House from the Eisenhower administration to the Carter administration. She — I think we have a picture of her with Jackie Kennedy, President Kennedy. This was a career that really spanned modern history.

SESNO: It spanned modern history. And again, the change that she saw and that she helped to bring about is really something that journalism and American society in many ways have seen completely altered.

Our colleagues here at CNN are also remembering Fran in really profound ways.

Candy Crowley remembers in early days when she was freelancing for CNN she came in here. She said it was a holiday weekend, she was assigned a transportation story, and she was trying to figure out who to call. And Fran said, well, call the secretary of transportation and put it right to him.

And Candy sell, well — you know, guess what? Fran worked the phones and got the secretary of transportation on the phone. That’s the kind of person she was. And she never stopped, into her 80s.

KURTZ: And, you know, the people who are not in front of the camera sometimes don’t get the recognition they deserve. I’m glad to have you here, Frank Sesno, to talk about Frank Lewine.

SESNO: We all owe Fran Lewine a great, great tribute.

KURTZ: She would have been 87 years old today.

From CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer”:

BLITZER: If to this were any other Sunday, Fran Lewine would be at her desk at the CNN news room or out at stakeouts in Washington, throwing tough questions at senators and statesmen.

But this Sunday, very sadly, Fran isn’t writing the news. She is the news. Last night, at her Washington home, she passed away from an apparent stroke. She was 86 years old.


BLITZER (voice over): Today U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq. But when Fran started in the news business, G.I.s were battling the Nazis in North Africa.

She was hired by the Associated Press in 1942 and covered every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Jimmy Carter.

It made her furious that she was relegated to covering social events and first ladies, while her male colleagues covered the president.

But Fran didn’t just get mad; she got even. The women who now have equal access to jobs in the news media owe much to her leadership and relentless pressure on this issue.

According to Fran, she showed up at CNN the day that President Reagan was shot in 1981 and simply asked to help out. She never left.

FRAN LEWINE: There’s going to be a great stakeout.

BLITZER: Continuing to work as a producer and assignment editor at CNN for almost as long as we’ve been in business, she was recognized for a lifetime of achievement, just months ago, when she was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism at the Missouri School of Journalism.

We will miss her smile, her eagerness to join an office pool, her high standards, and her freely given advice to those just starting off in the profession she loved so much.

Working alongside Fran was a privilege and a joy. We will miss her.

Frances Lewine, who covered the White House for The Associated Press during six presidential administrations and spent nearly three decades as a CNN editor and producer, died Saturday of an apparent stroke. She was 86.

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.

"It's amazing that at her age, Fran was still staking out administration and elected officials after weekend talk shows," CNN Washington Bureau Chief David Bohrman said. "All of journalism has lost a true pioneer."

Lewine was assigned to the White House in 1956 to cover the activities of first ladies and the Washington social scene. But in 1965 she became the AP's first full-time female White House correspondent. Take a look at Lewine's career

In 1977 she left AP to join the administration of President Jimmy Carter, and became the Department of Transportation's deputy director of public affairs. When Carter left office in 1981, Lewine moved to the newly created Cable News Network -- at age 60 -- as an assignment producer and field producer.

"When President Reagan was shot, I walked over to CNN that day and asked to help," Lewine said in a 2005 article in a newsletter for Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. "My claim to fame was, I found out what type of gun was used. They paid me $80 for my work."

Sunday would have been Lewine's 87th birthday, co-workers said. She had been recovering from surgery, but was expected to return to the office as soon as this week.

"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?"

Lewine was born in 1921 in New York and grew up in Far Rockaway. She graduated from New York's Hunter College, where she edited the college newspaper and worked as a reporter for the Plainfield, New Jersey, Courier-News before moving to the Newark AP bureau.

Lewine wrote that she began covering the White House full time "with the arrival of the glamorous young Kennedys" and recalled that her working attire often was an evening dress.

She accompanied the family to Vienna, Paris, and Rome and followed first lady Jacqueline Kennedy on a vacation trip to India and Pakistan, as well as two yachting excursions in the Mediterranean.

On one of those trips, the first lady's staff attempted to keep reporters in Athens, Greece, Lewine recalled. But she and several other journalists on a rented yacht followed her from island to island and, "much to the anger of the White House," kept track of the first lady's activities by listening in on ship-to-shore radio.

Lewine's wrote that she was often frustrated at being "relegated to social and family stories and sidebars while male colleagues covered the president."

She wrote that it was a "source of disappointment and anger" that the AP never considered her an equal to male White House colleagues.

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Frances Lewine's Timeline

January 20, 1921
New York, New York, United States
January 19, 2008
Age 86
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States