Jim Lehrer, the unflashy and never fashionable anchorman who delivered the news to public television audiences for 36 years before his retirement in 2011, has died. He was 85.
Lehrer, a former newspaper reporter and editor in Dallas who spent more than two decades working alongside Robert MacNeil at PBS, died Thursday at his home in Washington, PBS announced. (Watch a tribute to him here.)
“I’m heartbroken at the loss of someone who was central to my professional life, a mentor to me and someone whose friendship I’ve cherished for decades,” said PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff. “I’ve looked up to him as the standard for fair, probing and thoughtful journalism, and I know countless others who feel the same way.”
Lehrer moved to Washington in the early 1970s to become the public affairs coordinator at PBS and a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television. It was there that he met MacNeil and would soon begin one of the most esteemed partnerships in broadcast journalism history.
They first teamed up to cover the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, and their live coverage earned them an Emmy. In 1975, the pair launched the half-hour The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which Lehrer once joked “was the worst title in the history of television.” The show, which focused on long-form journalism, covering a single story at length and in depth, collected more than 30 awards, including a Peabody, a DuPont and several Emmys.
The program in 1983 became The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the nation’s first hourlong evening news program. Rather than concentrating on a single topic, the broadcast provided comprehensive coverage and analysis of the day’s important stories. And when MacNeil retired in October 1995, the show was renamed The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, with Lehrer as the sole anchor.
In 2009, the show’s name changed to PBS NewsHour as Lehrer considered retirement.
In a 2006 commencement speech at Harvard, Lehrer attributed his interest in world affairs to his time as a Marine: “I am grateful my country forced me to serve my country. Not for my country’s sake but for my own. In that diverse company, I learned to be responsible for others. I learned to be dependent on others. I learned there was more to life than me, me, me, me.”
Lehrer began his journalism career as a reporter for The Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times-Herald. He was assigned to cover the arrival of John F. Kennedy at Dallas’ Love Field on Nov. 22, 1963, and with a chance of rain, he noticed the Plexiglas bubble on the president’s limousine — set to take part in a motorcade through downtown — was up.
Lehrer later shifted to TV news in Dallas, working as the executive director of public affairs, on-air host and editor of a nightly news program on KERA-TV.
Lehrer was a prolific writer, publishing 20 novels, three memoirs and several screenplays. His last book was 2013’s Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination.
Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: AP
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