In her more than four decades with the Associated Press, Edith Lederer has worked on every continent except Antarctica covering wars, famines, nuclear issues and political upheavals.
Lederer, 65, began working as the chief correspondent at the United Nations for the AP in 1998. Since then, she has reported on the diplomatic side of conflicts in Darfur, Iraq, Kosovo, Congo, Sierra Leone and East Timor and major global issues, from Iran’s nuclear program and climate change to aging and women’s rights.
Lederer grew up on Long Island and received a B.S. degree from Cornell University in 1963 and an M.A. degree in communications from Stanford University the following year. Soon after, she landed her first journalism job at Science Service, a Scripps-Howard syndicate in Washington, D.C.
After about a year, Lederer left that job and traveled around Europe for several months with a friend, a trip that inspired her to see even more of the world. Upon returning, she was hired by the AP in March of 1966 at a time when there were very few women covering hard news.
Lederer started working in New York, covering assignments ranging from student riots at Columbia University to Robert Kennedy’s U.S. Senate campaign. In 1971, Lederer, then based in San Francisco, visited the AP bureau in Vietnam as part of an around-the-world trip. Though the AP foreign editor at the time was not in favor of women covering wars and disasters, Lederer received an invitation from the president of the AP to cover the war in Vietnam and spent nine months there in 1972-73, becoming the first woman assigned full-time to the AP staff reporting the Vietnam War. Lederer wrote about her experiences in Vietnam in War Torn: Stories of War from the Women Who Covered Vietnam, which was published in 2002.
Lederer’s experiences in Vietnam laid the groundwork for her future work as a foreign correspondent. Shortly after leaving Vietnam in 1973, she went to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. In 1974, she was assigned to Mexico City, and the following year she was named bureau chief in Peru, becoming the first woman to head a foreign bureau for the AP. Lederer then moved to a post as chief of Caribbean services based in Puerto Rico. In 1978, she transferred to Hong Kong to help cover China’s move toward a Western-style economy. She also made a rare visit to North Korea and went to Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in December 1979, masquerading as a rug buyer.
From Asia, Lederer moved to East Africa and then to London in 1982, where she was based as she reported on a wide variety of assignments for more than 16 years. She helped cover the downfall of communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union. She reported on the conflicts in Northern Ireland and Bosnia and ran the AP operation in Saudi Arabia before and during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991. She was the first journalist to file the bulletin announcing the start of the first Gulf War; she was at a U.S. airbase in Saudi Arabia in 1991 when a squadron of F-15E fighter-bombers took off to bomb Iraq. Lederer also helped cover the crash of Pan Am Flight 103, the death of Princess Diana and the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1998.
Despite Lederer’s far-reaching travels and her firsts as a woman journalist, she doesn’t necessarily see herself as someone who has forged paths for others, she said, because other women have been doing the things she’s done for a long time. Nevertheless, she’s humbled when younger reporters call her a role model and is honored to have helped inspire others.
Lederer has won numerous awards, including a National Press Club Award in 1993 and a National Headliner Award in 1994. She was also part of the AP team that won the Associated Press Managing Editors award for coverage of the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
She was born March 27, 1943 in New York City.