Lars-Erik Nelson was born in Brooklyn, New York the eldest child of immigrants who met while studying art at Cooper Union. He grew up in Riverdale and attended Bronx High School of Science. In 1963, Nelson graduated from Columbia University with a degree in Russian. He also was fluent in Czech, French and Swedish.
Nelson subsequently worked at the Digest of Soviet Press, The Bergen County Record, and The New York Herald Tribune. Nelson went to work for the Riverdale Press before joining Reuters in 1967 as a correspondent. He was posted in Moscow, London, and Prague, where in 1968 he covered the Prague Spring. Nelson joined The New York Daily News Washington staff in 1979. Shortly after beginning his career at The Daily News, Nelson won an Albert Merriman Smith Memorial Award, named after the longtime reporter for United Press International, for writing under deadline pressure. Nelson was bureau chief at The Daily News for about a decade before becoming a columnist for Newsday in 1993. In 1995, he returned to The New York Daily News as a columnist.
Lars-Erik Nelson became well known for his syndicated column in The New York Daily News, but his career in the news industry spanned over 40 years and took him all over the world. His work appeared in The New York Review of Books, The Nation Magazine, Mother Jones, Foreign Affairs, among others, and his column ran in newspapers across the country.
While Nelson was questioning Newt Gingrich in November 1995, Gingrich admitted that he had shut down the federal government because President Bill Clinton had made him sit at the back of Air Force One. The infamous Daily News “Cry Baby” cover story ran the following day.
In November 2000, Nelson broke the story that Katherine Harris, then-State Attorney General in Florida, was not a neutral participant in the Florida ballot controversy, but that she had been significantly involved in George W. Bush’s presidential campaign.
|“||Investigative reporting can be agenda-driven. The reporting team gets an idea in its head or they find a source, and they cease being skeptical because they're so delighted to have this insider source. Whitewater was a similar case where the Times believed the version told by Jim McDougal. I think you'll agree he was not a particularly good source. But Jim McDougal's version of Whitewater drove that case. Oddly enough, this is the same reporter in that case who did the Wen Ho Lee series.||”|
Nelson died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland in 2000. Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher of The New York Daily News, subsequently announced that the newspaper had established the Lars-Erik Nelson Prize for excellence in reporting and writing, an annual $5,000 award at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
- Call the Briefing: Reagan and Bush, Sam and Helen, A Decade with Presidents and the Press (Columbia Journalism Review. 1996)
- After Clinton (New York Review of Books. 2000)
- Lars-Erik Nelson, 59, Writer of Columns at The Daily News (The New York Times. November 22, 2000) 
- Lars-Erik Nelson (Monday Wednesday Friday)
- Lars-Erik Nelson: The Real Thing (Gabriel Snyder. The New York Observer. November 26, 2000) 
- Lars-Erik Nelson '64: A Subversive Among Cynics (Columbia University)
- FLA. Vote Chief's in W. Column ( Lars-Erik Nelson, The New York Daily News. November 14, 2000)
- Covering Wen Ho Lee (The NewsHour Media Unit. September 26, 2000)