HARVARD GAZETTE ARCHIVES
The 1996 Class of Nieman Fellows cites Bonner for a career of fearless and independent-minded reporting. In naming Bonner, who is currently based in Warsaw, the Fellows broke with the practice of honoring reporting done in the previous calendar year to acknowledge a body of work stretching back to the early 1980s.
Bonner is the first American journalist in 13 years to receive the Lyons Award. While acknowledging the brave work done in difficult conditions by many foreign journalists, the Fellows expressed concern this year over growing economic and editorial pressures on members of the United States press.
In his work in Central America, the Philippines, Central Europe, and Africa, Bonner has demonstrated a passionate, principled journalism.
In 1982, Bonner was at the center of a controversy over the reporting of a massacre of civilians by government forces in the El Salvador village of El Mozote. The governments of El Salvador and the United States denied that the massacre had occurred. Bonner's integrity was publicly questioned. He was recalled from the field by The New York Times and subsequently left the newspaper. In 1992, forensic archaeologists confirmed that the massacre had taken place and had left at least 38 dead, many of them children.
In announcing this year's Lyons Award, the Fellows also made special mention of Chinese journalist Gao Yu, imprisoned by the government of China since 1993 on charges of revealing state secrets. The Fellows saluted Gao Yu and her determination to pursue open journalism in the face of severe restrictions on press freedom.
Bonner earned a J.D. degree from Stanford University Law School in 1967. In 1968 he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain in 1971. Before taking up journalism, Bonner worked as a staff attorney with Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Litigation Group, as a director for the West Coast office of the Consumers Union, and as director of the consumer fraud/white collar crime unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's office.
Bonner first worked for The New York Times as a staff reported from 1981 to 1984. He resumed writing for the newspaper in 1992. From 1987 to 1992 he was a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine. He is the author of three books: Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador, Times Books, winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1984; Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy, Times Books, winner of the Overseas Press Club Award for best book on foreign affairs, 1987; and At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa's Wildlife, Knopf, 1993.
The Nieman Foundation administers a midcareer fellowship program that since 1938 has brought nearly 1,000 American and foreign journalists to Harvard for a year of academic study of their choosing. The Lyons Award honors Louis M. Lyons, who was a beacon of journalistic integrity during his 25 years as curator of the Nieman Fellowship Program.
The award, which carries a $1,000 honorarium, will be presented to Bonner in Cambridge on May 8 by Curator Bill Kovach and the 1996 Class of Nieman Fellows.
Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College