Jim Lehrer, Longtime Host of PBS NewsHour, Dies at 85


(NEW YORK) — Jim Lehrer, co-host and later host of the nightly PBS NewsHour that for many years supplied a considerate tackle present occasions, has died, PBS mentioned Thursday. He was 85.

Lehrer died “peacefully in his sleep,” in keeping with PBS. He had suffered a coronary heart assault in 1983 and extra just lately, had undergone coronary heart valve surgical procedure in April 2008.

For Lehrer, and for his good friend and longtime companion Robert MacNeil, broadcast journalism was a service, with public understanding of occasions and points its major purpose. Lehrer was additionally a frequent moderator of presidential debates. “We both believed the American people were not as stupid as some of the folks publishing and programming for them believed,” Lehrer wrote in his 1992 memoir, A Bus of My Personal.

“We were convinced they cared about the significant matters of human events. … And we were certain they could and would hang in there more than 35 seconds for information about those subjects if given a chance.”

Tributes poured in from colleagues and watchers alike, together with from Fox Information’ Bret Baier, who known as Lehrer “an inspiration to a whole generation of political journalists— including this one.” Dan Quite mentioned “few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer.” And Jake Tapper of CNN known as Lehrer “a wonderful man and a superb journalist.” Home Speaker Nancy Pelosi known as him a “champion for truth and transparency.”

The half-hour Robert MacNeil Report started on PBS in 1975 with Lehrer as Washington correspondent. The 2 had already made names for themselves on the then-fledgling community by way of their work with the Nationwide Public Affairs Middle for Tv and its protection of the Watergate hearings in 1973.

The nightly information broadcast, later retitled the MacNeil-Lehrer Report, turned the nation’s first one-hour TV information broadcast in 1983 and was then generally known as the MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour. After MacNeil bowed out in 1995, it turned The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

“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,” mentioned Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour, in a press release.

Politics, worldwide relations, economics, science, even developments within the arts had been all given prolonged, detailed protection of their present.

“When we expanded to the hour, it changed from being a supplement to an alternative,” Lehrer mentioned in 1990. “Now we take the position that if you’re looking for a place to go every 24 hours and find out what’s happened and get some in-depth treatment, we’re the place.”

Lehrer moderated his first presidential debate in 1988 and was a frequent consensus alternative for the duty in subsequent presidential contests. He likened the job to “walking down the blade of a knife.”

“Anybody who would say it’s just another TV show is a liar or a fool,” he as soon as mentioned. “I know how important it is, but it’s not about me. It’s what the candidates say that matters.”

He additionally anchored PBS protection of inaugurations and conventions, dismissing criticism from different TV information organizations that the latter had turn out to be too scripted to yield a lot in the best way of actual information. “I think when the major political parties of this country gather together their people and resources in one place to nominate their candidates, that’s important,” he instructed The Related Press in 2000. “To me, it’s a non-argument. I don’t see why someone would argue that it wasn’t important.”

Naturally, Lehrer got here in for some knocks for being so low-key within the huge televised occasions. After a matchup between George W. Bush and Al Gore in 2000, David Letterman cracked, “Last night was probably the first and only that time Jim Lehrer (was) the most exciting person in the room.”

However the real-life Lehrer — who had a convention of shopping for a brand new tie for good luck earlier than every debate — was extra colourful than he might need appeared on PBS.

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On the aspect, he was additionally a novelist and someday playwright. His debut novel Viva Max! was made right into a film starring Peter Ustinov. He wrote an entire collection of novels in regards to the adventures of an Oklahoma politician generally known as The One-Eyed Mack. “Hemingway said this, too: If you paid attention as a reporter, then when the time came to write fiction you’d have something to write about,” Lehrer instructed The Related Press in 1991.

“And it turned out I did. And I’ve got all these stories stored up after 30 years in the news business. And they’re just flowing out of me.”

As Lehrer turned 75 in spring 2009, PBS introduced that the present could be retitled as PBS NewsHour later within the yr, with Lehrer pairing up on anchor duties with different present regulars. Lehrer mentioned he permitted of the adjustments, telling The New York Instances that having a pair of anchors would “shake things up a bit,” whilst all sectors of the information enterprise struggled to fulfill altering reader and viewer calls for.

Lehrer was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1934, the son of fogeys who ran a bus line. Along with titling his memoir “A Bus of My Own,” he collected bus memorabilia — from station indicators to an actual 1946 Flxible Clipper bus.

After commencement from school in 1956, he served three years within the Marines, later calling the expertise so worthwhile that he thought all younger individuals ought to participate in nationwide service. “I had no close calls, no rendezvous with danger, no skirted destinies with death,” he wrote. “What I had was a chance to discover and test myself, physically and emotionally and spiritually, in important, lasting ways.”

He went to work from 1959 to 1970 at The Dallas Morning Information and the now-defunct Dallas Instances-Herald. Lehrer jumped to tv for a Dallas nightly newscast.

Lehrer wrote that it was ironic that the Watergate hearings helped set up the significance of public TV, since President Richard Nixon hated public broadcasting. He additionally recalled that the prolonged hearings gave him the possibility to apply his new craft, and MacNeil, already a veteran, gave him worthwhile tips about how one can converse on digital camera clearly and conversationally.

He’s survived by his spouse, Kate; three daughters: Jamie, Lucy, and Amanda; and 6 grandchildren.


Former Related Press author Polly Anderson contributed to this report.

Contact us at editors@time.com.


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