Lizza attended the Berkshire School, a private co-educational boarding school in the town of Sheffield, Massachusetts and received his bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
Lizza started his career at the Center for Investigative Reporting in San Francisco, where he worked on the Emmy Award-winning Frontline documentary Hot Guns. In 1998, he joined The New Republic, where he became Senior Editor. From 1998 to 2007, Lizza covered Bill Clinton's impeachment, the Florida recount, the Bush White House, and the 2004 presidential election. In 2004, he also wrote about politics for The Atlantic, including one of the first national magazine profiles of Barack Obama. From 2004 to 2006 Lizza was a contributing editor for New York magazine, where he wrote about national politics, including a profile of Senator Chuck Schumer, a piece exploring New York's place as the "abortion capital of America", a profile of New York's top conservative organizer, and a piece about president Bush's relationship with New York City. In 2006 and 2007 Lizza was also a correspondent for GQ, where he wrote profiles of Rahm Emanuel, Sen. James Webb, and a cover story about Barack Obama, who was the first politician on the cover of GQ in 15 years. From 2002 to 2007, Lizza also regularly contributed to The New York Times.
Lizza covered the 2008 U.S. presidential election for The New Yorker, and notably wrote an extended profile of Barack Obama's career in Illinois politics. In 2009, the article was nominated for a National Magazine Award. During the campaign, a cartoon in the New Yorker allegedly caused the Obama campaign to exclude Lizza from Obama's campaign plane, citing a lack of space. In July 2017, his report on a conversation with White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci led to Scaramucci's dismissal from the post.
Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News referred to Lizza as "required reading" for those interested in the American political scene. In June, 2009, The Washingtonian magazine included Lizza on its list of Washington's "50 Top Journalists" and described him as a writer who "change[s] the way readers see the world."
Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt said Lizza is "widely regarded as one of the premier political reporters of the United States working at this time."
He was the first to print the phrase "leading from behind" to describe President Barack Obama's policy on Libya in 2011.
Lizza is a resident of Washington, D.C. He is the son of Barbara and Frank Lizza.
On April 27, 2013, the White House Correspondents' Association presented Lizza with the Aldo Beckman Memorial Award for journalistic excellence for his 2012 coverage of Barack Obama's presidency and re-election campaign. The judges wrote:
"The judges enthusiastically choose Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker for his remarkable efforts to provide an independent perspective on President Obama's presidency and re-election. Deep reporting, both through documents and personal interviews, moves these stories beyond the cacophony of a campaign year. Mr. Lizza, in addition to being an excellent reporter, is a thoughtful, cogent writer. He has a keen ability to take his readers inside decisions and weave a compelling narrative, something he has done for more than a decade covering the White House.”
According to Lizza's official bio he has also won the following awards:National Press Club's Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence (for his 2011 article, "The Consequentialist", on Obama's foreign policy)
Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting, Honorable Mention (for his 2010 article on Obama's efforts to pass climate legislation)
National Press Foundation Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress Honorable Mention (for his 2010 article on Obama's efforts to pass climate legislation)
Finalist, National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting (for his 2008 New Yorker article on Barack Obama)
In June 2012, Lizza became a CNN contributor who "will appear across all CNN programming."
Lizza's writing has been included in the 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 editions of The Best American Political Writing. Lizza is a regular guest on public affairs shows on television and radio. He has appeared on Meet the Press, Hardball with Chris Matthews, Good Morning America, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, CSPAN's Washington Journal, Tavis Smiley, NPR's Fresh Air, Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now!, among others. On Super Tuesday in 2012, he was featured on the International Edition of BBC.