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 cnn.com 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.
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.