Lewis Z. Koch was a versatile journalist and writer who at one juncture in a varied career wrote columns to help parents and families during times of changing mores.
Koch, 87, died on Dec. 3 at Evanston Hospital of injuries suffered in a fall, said his wife of 58 years, Joanne. He had been a longtime Evanston resident.
Born Lewis Zelig Koch in Chicago, Koch grew up in Hyde Park and graduated from the all-boys Harvard School in Kenwood. Koch then attended Drake University and the University of Chicago.
Koch worked as a freelance reporter and book reviewer, including writing a 1959 article for the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine that explained how the U.S. Army chooses jobs for its recruits. He joined the now-defunct City News Bureau wire service, for which he covered mobster Anthony Accardo’s income tax fraud trial in 1960.
“Lew was an immensely likable guy, who was smart, funny, a devil …” said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour “Sy” Hersh, who worked with Koch at City News. “And he was a marvelous social critic.”
Koch joined WBBM-TV as director of continuity, a jack-of-all-trades role, and in 1963, was named producer of the station’s weekly late-night talk show “At Random,” first moderated by Carter Davidson and later by John Madigan.
The Saturday night show welcomed an eclectic set of guests during Koch’s time as producer, including Malcolm X, Gore Vidal, Barry Goldwater and, in 1964, Marguerite Oswald, the mother of presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
“The best thing about the show is its spontaneity,” Koch told the Tribune in 1963. “We never know what someone’s going to say next. We don’t prime the guests at all before airtime. Sometimes they ask us, ‘What should I say?’ But that’s one question we won’t answer. We just tell them what the topics will be and let them take it from there.”
In 1967, Koch joined NBC News’ Chicago bureau, where he covered the police killing of Black Panther Party Illinois chapter Chair Fred Hampton in 1969.
In 1968, Koch helped start the Chicago Journalism Review with a group of daily newspaper reporters who were dissatisfied with media coverage of the 1968 Democratic National Convention. The publication, which was notorious for pulling no punches in its examination of Chicago media, folded in 1975.
“He was someone who despised authority and loved the underdog,” said journalist and historian Rick Perlstein.
In 1972, Koch was named the coordinator of the University of Chicago’s Urban Journalism Fellowship Program, a six-month series of classes and seminars aimed at bettering the skills of those covering urban problems.
“He loved bringing new people into the field and helping people along who showed great promise,” his wife said.
Also in 1972, Koch and his wife began collaborating on a column that appeared in the Tribune that was called “Family Lib” that examined family structures, sexual norms and gender roles during the times of social change in the early 1970s.
The column later was syndicated by the Scripps Howard News Service’s Newspaper Enterprise Association and published in some 200 newspapers under a new name, “Coping.” The column ran until 1975.
Koch and his wife were contributing editors for the Chicago Guide, which became Chicago magazine, and wrote an article in 1974 called “The Marriage Savers” that identified marriage counselors and couples therapists available in the Chicago area. That article led to the couple writing a 288-page book by the same title in 1976.
Koch and his wife co-authored a college textbook on marriage with sociology professor Diane Levande, “Marriage and the Family,” in 1983. He also wrote for Psychology Today magazine and in the early 1990s was the executive director of the Parents in Touch Project, writing a series of booklets aimed at helping parents communicate better with their children.
From the mid-1990s until the early 2000s, Koch wrote about technology and cybercriminals for Interactive Week magazine and the CyberWire Dispatch news service.
“He was fascinated by the hacker subculture,” Perlstein said. “He was always kind of gravitating toward people who had this same outsider view of the universe that he did. A lot of what he worked on in the 1990s involved exploring moral themes.”
In early 2004, the Chicago-based Bulletin of Atomic Scientists published a 10-page investigative article by Koch about the case of Chicagoan José Padilla, who was arrested in 2002 on terrorism-related charges after being suspected of planning a dirty bomb attack.
Koch interviewed numerous legal experts who contended that Padilla’s constitutional rights were being violated by the federal government, which detained him at length without allowing him to be advised by an attorney. Koch also explored the potential lethality of any bomb that Padilla would have helped create, as well as the federal government’s history of detaining and suspending the constitutional rights of individuals during earlier times of war.
“Lew was a crusading journalist — sometimes it was going up against windmills — but that spirit of defying the powers that be, he loved that and helping the underdog,” his wife said.
In addition to his wife, Koch is survived by two daughters, Lisa Kornick and Rachel; a son, Joshua; seven grandchildren; and a brother, Michael.
Services were held.
Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.
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