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VOL. 121 | NO. 215 | Friday, November 3, 2006

Washington Post Veteran Discusses Role in U of M's Journalism Program

By Amy O. Williams

Print | Front Page | Email this story | Email reporter | Comments ()
Name: Bob Levey
Position: Hardin Chair of Excellence
Company The University of Memphis
Basics: Levey, a journalist for 37 years, brings his experiences at The Washington Post and other high-profile outlets to U of M's journalism students.

As an 8-year-old boy growing up in New York City, Bob Levey caught the newspaper bug early. He would ride the subway and devour the newspapers that had been left behind by commuters.

"I thought they were the most fascinating thing I had ever seen," Levey said.

That love of newspapers eventually led Levey to The Washington Post in the late 1960s. He would be there when Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were investigating the Watergate scandal.

"I sat right between them," Levey said. "That was pretty amazing; I'll never have another experience like that."

Ink in the blood

Levey, a 36-year veteran of The Post, now holds the Hardin Chair of Excellence in the Department of Journalism at the University of Memphis.

During his 37 years as a professional journalist, Levey has worn many hats - reporter, editor and columnist. In his first years as a reporter at The Post, Levey covered major stories such as the presidential campaign of controversial Alabama governor George Wallace in the late 1960s and the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

He even worked as a sports editor at The Post in the early 1970s during the newspaper's coverage of events such as the Olympics, the Super Bowl and the World Series.

"I did everything there," he said. "I've covered every kind of news except foreign."

Levey said today Woodward and Bernstein remain two of the greatest journalists he knows and two of the best friends he has.

Working at The Post during that time was phenomenal, he said, because the Watergate story itself - which led to President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974 - made it so.

The Watergate scandal was a series of events between 1972 and 1974 that got its name from the burglaries of the Democratic National Committee, which then was housed in the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington.

Nixon, who was gearing up to run for re-election, was linked to the burglars, Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, James W. McCord Jr. and Frank Sturgis. Nixon would have been impeached if he hadn't resigned four days after court-ordered "smoking gun" tapes were released. The tapes shed light on the burglaries and the attempted cover-up that followed.

The Watergate period would become especially exciting for the Post staff when Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford later took up residence in the newsroom for about a month to prepare for the 1976 movie "All the President's Men," based on the 1974 book of the same name by Woodward and Bernstein.

Passing the torch - er - pen

As part of his duties in the journalism department - which began in August when school started - Levey is teaching an undergraduate writing class and serving as the department's chief fund-raiser.

"This chair gives me a chance to teach students who don't live on either coast," said Levey, who has called Washington home for nearly 40 years. "This is - in so many ways - is what I want to be doing."

And the U of M could not be happier to have him on board.

"He's great," said Jim Redmond, chair of the department journalism department. "Bob's a very positive, fun guy who really connects with everyone he meets."

Students in the department will benefit greatly from Levey's experience, which is what Redmond said drew him to Levey.

"He's been where the rubber meets the road," he said.

What Levey is perhaps best remembered for is the daily column he wrote for 23 years at The Post. "Bob Levey's Washington" touched on a variety of topics from the president - there were four different ones in the years he wrote the column - to children's health care. From 1981 to 2004, Levey wrote 5,411 columns on deadline. He describes the tone of the column as "Bob being Bob."

For example, a series of columns titled "Bob Goes on a Diet," appeared in 2002 and 2003 and chronicled Levey's attempt to lose weight.

The topics were very personal and whimsical, he said. It was a ground-level kind of column, as opposed to the big-time policy columns Levey said Washington newspapers have in abundance. Levey loved writing about suburbanites, which he said are truly representative of America.

"I didn't plan to do what I did; I had no grand design," Levey said. "But when I became a columnist, I knew I was doing what I was meant to do. I loved it."

Straight to the headlines

Levey grew up in New York City and attended the University of Chicago. He graduated in 1966 and immediately went to work for a newspaper - The Albuquerque Tribune in New Mexico.

The very next place Levey worked was The Washington Post, where he was a general assignment reporter, an assistant sports editor, assistant city editor and city political bureau chief.

In his career, Levey also has worked as a radio host and continues to host The Washington Post radio show, which covers just about every topic covered in the paper itself, and may be heard nationally on the Internet at 10 a.m. central time on www.washingtonpost.com, and he has done voice-overs for commercials and radio.

But right now, Levey said he is very happy with his current position at the U of M, and Memphis. He sees a great deal of potential in the city, he said.

Levey currently lives in Midtown, which he calls "one of the most interesting neighborhoods in America." He commutes home to Washington every weekend to see his wife, Jane.

The Leveys have two children - 24-year-old Emily and 20-year-old Alexander, or "Allie."

After living in Washington for so many years, Levey said one thing he appreciates about Memphis is the traffic, or lack of it.

"There really are no cities like this anywhere in the U.S.," Levey said. "And if you happen to be a nut for blues like I am, then I'm home."

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