Champion of Underdogs


J. Anthony Lewis '48 is both a Harvard institution and a pillar of journalistic integrity. Author, New York Times columnist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, Lewis will also deliver the Harvard Law School (HLS) Class Day speech today.

Lewis says he plans to discuss lawyers and their role in civilization, themes he touched on in the Roberts Lecture he gave at the University of Pennsylvania Law School many years ago.

"I knew I would talk about what graduates of the Harvard Law School can do for the country and for society," he says.

Lewis says that despite the negative image of lawyers harbored by Americans after the O.J. Simpson trial, he still believes lawyers contribute a lot to society.

He says his fondest memories include "playing law school student" while he was a Nieman fellow from 1956-1957. He sat in on law school classes and learned the rationale of law.

"It really changed my thinking," he says. "On everything I've done since, I've felt the influence of the law."

Lewis has used his legal knowledge as a lecturer at HLS, teaching a course on the Constitution and the press. He has also lectured at the Universities of California, Illinois, Oregon and Arizona and has held the James Madison Visiting Professorship at Columbia University since 1983.

The law has often run through Lewis' writing. He won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1955 after covering the McCarthy Senate hearings for the Washington Daily News.

He says the 1953 hearings sparked his interest in internal security, and he soon began checking records of federal employees who had been dismissed as security risks. He discovered the case of Abraham Chasanow, a civilian employed in the Navy's Hydrographic Office who had been dismissed in July 1953 as a loyalty risk after more than 20 years of service. Lewis' articles cleared Chasanow's name and earned him the Pulitzer.

In 1963, Lewis won his second Pulitzer for his articles on the Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainright, which established the right of indigent defendants to have public defenders.

Despite celebrating his 70th birthday just two months ago, Lewis adheres to a busy daily schedule. He has written a daily column for the Op-Ed section of The New York Times since 1969 and says he doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon.

Lewis has always championed the underdog, whether it be Chasanow, Gideon or the Bosnians he often writes about today.

"It's probably just part of my psyche to care about the underdog, to care for people who are being mistreated," Lewis says.

He says the issues which have moved him most are the Middle East peace process and the Vietnam War.

Lewis was born in New York City on March 27, 1929. He attended the Horace Mann School in New York and matriculated at Harvard in 1944. At Harvard, he says, he spent most of his hours at The Crimson as a writer and later as managing editor.