Our most heartfelt condolences go out this holiday weekend to New York Times investigative reporter Nina Bernstein. She has announced that her father Lester Bernstein has passed away at age 94. Eight days after the death of his wife Mimi, Nina’s mother.
The span of Mr. Bernstein’s esteemed journalism career was writ large, encompassing stints as editor of Newsweek, European correspondent for Time and vice president at NBC, where he helped organize the first televised U.S. Presidential debates. Per today’s Times obituary, here’s how it all began:
Lester Bernstein was born in the Bronx on July 18, 1920 to Isidore and Rebecca Axelrod Bernstein, Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe. He graduated in 1936 from DeWitt Clinton High School and in 1940 from Columbia College, where he was the Times campus correspondent.
He soon joined the paper’s staff. On December 7, 1941, writing bulletins for the Times‘ radio affiliate, he was the first staff member to report the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was an Army radioman in Europe in World War II, then rejoined the paper as a theater reporter.
Nina, before joining the Times, worked for Newsday, the Milwaukee Journal and in Des Moines, Iowa. She was a Nieman Fellow at her Alma Mater, Harvard, in 1983-84; has won a Mike Berger Award and George Polk Award; and authored the 2001 book The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care.
As the obituary also notes, her father and his fellow Newsweek earned the nickname “The Flying Wallendas” for their ability to handle the high-wire act of tight deadlines. Bernstein was even gifted at one point by magazine staffers with a framed, signed circus poster of the Wallenda troupe.
Nina, when she accepted a 2010 award from Columbia College, gave a wonderful speech referencing her dad. RIP.