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Jim Lehrer (1934-2020), co-founder, The NewsHour, PBS


On Thursday, January 23, Jim Lehrer, the co-founder of The NewsHour on PBS, died. He was one of the great and legendary broadcast journalists of all times, unique in his bringing to the US and the world, along with Robert MacNeil, a new concept in broadcast news starting in 1975, focusing in-depth and in-breadth on one select issue on the nightly news for 30 minutes, and then expanded to an hour focusing on a few select issues, after a few minutes giving basic information on headlines of the day.

The NewsHour was and is unlike any other nightly news program on US television. It was, and is, a revolutionary idea rooted in a traditional concept: News should inform as fully as possible, focused on facts as objectively as possible. It was and is revolutionary because it flew in the face of the short attention span of Americans when it started, shorter by a factor mathematically impossible to factor since.

It also appealed, and appeals, to moderates, liberals and conservatives alike. That PBS is watched at least as often by conservatives as liberals, if not more, seems a little-known fact. That The NewsHour, much like its sister documentary series on PBS, Frontline, brings factual balance in both presentation and in reception across the political spectrum in audience is more critical than ever in an age of increasing fact-deprivation and polarization.

What morphed into The NewsHour was first called The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. One of the writers here, Keith Blume,  in his book, The Presidential Election Show, the first to follow the nightly news coverage on NBC, CBS, ABC and PBS through taping and reporting on every night of a presidential campaign in 1984, reported on the traditional Labor Day launch of the campaign:

By far the best coverage of the day was to be found on The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS.

The reasons were then detailed at length. And so it went throughout the campaign. The commercial networks were primarily a delivery system for entertainment values of image over substance. The NewsHour was focused on substance. As Elliott Roosevelt, son of President Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, put it in the Forward to the book after decrying the negative impact of nightly television network news:

The record does show that public television did a much more credible job.

While started by two white males, as was the norm at the time, The NewsHour has for sometime been led and dominated in reporting by women, including women of color, all of whom we have had great respect and admiration for through their careers.

No other nightly news broadcast has achieved this with such breadth and consistency for so long.

The anchor for many years now at The NewsHour, Judy Woodruff, showed her deeply felt emotion in reporting about Jim Lehrer’s death, as was called for. The reflections from her and many colleagues were extraordinarily moving.

Jim Lehrer moderated more broadcast presidential election debates than any other journalist in history. He holds that record for a reason. No one embodied the past half century of broadcast journalism and the attendant history itself more than he did.

Jim Lehrer had nine rules for journalism. They embody important values and practices for journalism and for life:

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.
  2. Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
  3. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  4. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.
  5. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
  6. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
  7. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything
  8. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should be allowed to attack another anonymously.
  9. “I am not in the entertainment business.”

Following are transcripts and links to programs on The NewsHour on Thursday and Friday following Jim Lehrer’s passing.

They truly cannot be missed.

The extraordinary legacy and unique voice of Jim Lehrer

Judy Woodruff, Robert MacNeil, Stephen Breyer and Sharon Percy Rockefeller, January 23, 2020

It is impossible to quantify Jim Lehrer’s influence on this news program, American journalism, presidential debates or the lives of so many of us. He was an extraordinary journalist, writer, collaborator and friend. Robert MacNeil, Lehrer’s NewsHour co-founder, longtime Lehrer friend Justice Stephen Breyer and Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA, join Judy Woodruff to remember him.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    On this day he died, we want to take some time for personal memories of Jim, as a journalist, a writer, collaborator, and friend.

    Robert “Robin” MacNeil, of course, is the co-founder of this program with Jim and his longtime friend and former co-anchor. He joins us from New York. Sharon Percy Rockefeller is the president and CEO of WETA, the public television station we are broadcasting from. Her work with Jim and Robin goes back to the very earliest days, when they covered the Watergate hearings. And Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is a longtime friend of Jim’s.

    And we welcome all of you.

    We know it’s hard on this day. It’s hard for all of us. And so we especially appreciate your being here.

    Robin, take us back to the early days, when you and Jim first got to know each other. He came from his newspapering in Texas, and you came from your background in network television news to work together.

    Tell us about that.

  • Robert MacNeil:

    Well, it was amazing how quickly, within a day or two, we became friends.

    Then we discovered we each had a tiny daughter in the same kindergarten in Bethesda. And that friendship grew so intimately and quickly that it was rather astonishing.

    It grew to the point where, within a year or so, we put it in our wills that, if anything happened to either of us, the other would look after the little children. Well, time moved on, and we didn’t need to observe that.

    But Jim was just instant friendship, and we — our backgrounds were so different, but they melded in a very curious way.

    And I remember very well, in his beaten-up old Volkswagen, driving back from the Watergate hearings every night, and each of us turning to the other and saying, can you believe we’re getting paid to do this?


  • Robert MacNeil:

    Anyway, he was — and, as I said earlier, it — Jim taught me a lot.

    I grew up in a television background where you kind of loaded up your questions with enough information on foreign affairs to — as though you were a secretary of state in waiting.


  • Robert MacNeil:

    And Jim — Jim just said: Well, tell me about it, or why doesn’t it work, or what does that mean, and wasn’t afraid to ask very simple questions.

    I learned a lot from him.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Robin, was it — what was it about his journalism?

    I mean, for people — I mean, there’s folks, younger generation today, who maybe didn’t see a lot of Jim or know a lot of Jim. What was it about his journalism?

  • Robert MacNeil:

    Well, I think he came, as I did, from a generation where the role, if you were going to be a serious journalist, if not overserious journalist, where you paid respect to the facts and respect for the institutions that you were covering, whether you disagreed with the way they were being run or not, and respect for the people who gave their lives to government service and the armed forces and everything else.

    That has changed enormously. And I think Jim was the kind of personification, in the way he observed these values in his journalism, of so many things that are being mocked or trashed today in our current political and journalistic situation, that he is truly of another generation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It does feel like a different time.

    But, Sharon, you got to know Jim and Robin, what, in the 1970s, when they were working on the Watergate hearings.

    What was it about the team and about Jim?

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    Well, I was asked, luckily, to go on the WETA Board of Trustees.

    I lived in West Virginia at the time, but the founder of WETA called me and said: “We need you.”

    And I hadn’t met her. I didn’t know anything about it. But she said: “Come immediately.”

    The Watergate hearings were just starting. And we had a community board which didn’t know that much about politics. My dad had been a Republican, my husband a Democrat, so they thought I knew something about politics.

    Well, I did, but I didn’t know anything about presidential impeachment hearings.

    And so it was the very early days, when no one knew where it was going. And I don’t think Robin was in Washington that time, but I talked to Jim, or — and both of them over the years. We got to be good friends, because we believed in the same mission. We knew this was utterly important.

    The newspapers were doing a good job, but we wanted — but people were watching television, and they were riveted. They were hooked. As it was unfolding, history was being made. And we didn’t have a clue what was going to happen the next day.

    We aligned ourselves as a team. And we saw that our place in the world of journalism was important, and we were going to do it right and get it right.

    And I would figure out how to pay for it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And those are things we still believe today.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    What was it about Jim Lehrer, though, that you saw in this team in the beginning?

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:


    Well, he loved Washington. He knew a lot about Washington. We were both very directly-spoken people. I’m pretty quick with words. And Jim was quick with words. So, we’d sort of get to the point fast. We always just got along because we believed in the same values.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Justice Breyer, you have known Jim Lehrer as a friend. He obviously was covering you over the years.

    Tell us about your friendship.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    He was a good friend.

    I was thinking today, what is it about him? I mean, you have said he was a Marine. And he was. And you saw it. I mean, he was definite. He was strong. He was patriotic.

    He was a builder. You have said that. He built this organization, and I think around a central idea, which is so much him. And the central idea is what other people say, not what the newscaster says, and our job will be to bring out from them of different points of view, what they’re thinking.

    And he stuck to that. And you have.

    And I think that was the thing. He was interested in everything. I mean, he was interested — did you know that, when he was young, in fact, he memorized all the train schedules from Kansas?


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we used to hear him recite some of them.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    Yes, and the…


  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    And the bus schedules.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    The bus schedules, the train schedules.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    That’s right.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    He wrote mystery stories.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That’s right.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    He was interested in everything and everybody.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:


  • Stephen Breyer:

    And you would draw him very easily into a conversation about anything at all.

    He didn’t say, this is about me.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Stephen Breyer:

    Always, it was about something else that drew him out.

    And he had a comic side. I mean, it was a kind of subtle comedy. When we were in Italy one time, I — visiting. We were visiting some friends. And he was very late, he and Kate.

    And I said, what did — well, he said: “I was caught in Bologna riding up and down the escalators, and I couldn’t figure out how to get off the escalator.”

    Now, we didn’t know.


  • Stephen Breyer:

    Was that something he made up?


  • Stephen Breyer:

    He was a kind person. He was a generous person.

    Joanna, my wife, wrote a book about her profession, which is working with very sick children.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Stephen Breyer:

    And she was going to appear on television. And she didn’t like public speaking.

    He spent time, rehearsed her and rehearsed her, and said, be natural, normal, and, above all, appear as if you have never been rehearsed.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Sharon, you — having known Jim all these years, you know his family. You know his humor. You have watched him in action.

    Great with people, with friends.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    Absolutely, in every way, starting with his wife, Kate, a wonderful novelist.

    They had a terrific partnership, three daughters. But, when they were together, you could tell they were a happy couple and devoted to each other. And she helped him with her — his writing, and he helped with her writing, I think. Maybe she didn’t let him help him (sic) too much.

    But it was — he was a very well-rounded human being. And he was all business at work. And I don’t mean tough or mean, but I mean to the point, concise, laconic, in a way, but just, let’s get this job done, because the mission is so important. We need to do it right, without doing it self-righteously.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And picking up on that, Robin, that’s really Jim.

    Jim gave work his all when he was at work, but he had a very full life outside of television and the “NewsHour.”

  • Robert MacNeil:


    We talked a lot back and forth from New York to Washington when we weren’t on the air, and, mostly, we didn’t talk about the news. We talked about the books we were writing or hoping to write at the time.

    Jim — Jim is an extraordinarily intelligent man. I think he’s the brightest man I ever worked with. And he had not only a penetrating intelligence, but also a moral intelligence. He had a way of cutting through to the moral equation in any situation, political, in terms of friendship, and the kind of man you trusted, as I trusted him.

    I could tell him anything, and did, things I wouldn’t tell other people. And he and I had — I don’t know what secrets he had for me, but I had very few secrets from him. And it was really a remarkable thing.

    That moral intelligence, it goes to the central part of Jim, which I think is exemplified — and it’s pretentious — by the advice that Polonius gives to Laertes in “Hamlet,” to thine own self be true. Thou canst not then be false to any man.

    And if that isn’t a good motto for today, I don’t know. And Jim embodied that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That makes me think, Justice Breyer, thinking about Jim, he’s one of those people who would — could spot a phony a mile away. I mean, he had a kind of a radar in terms of reading what was right and what wasn’t.

    We talked about the Marines and how that mattered in his life. That probably had something to do with it.

    What about his Kansas roots? I mean, his father Jim was a — he — Jim had a love of buses. We talked about that.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    Well, he wrote a very good crime novel about somebody who lived in a — I think it was a train station, wasn’t it, somewhere in Kansas.

  • Robert MacNeil:

    He also wrote a most moving memoir called “We Were Dreamers.”

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Robert MacNeil:

    In fact, his first book after the novel he published first of all.

    But the — “We Were Dreamers” is an account of his brother and he with the two parents running the small feeder bus line in Kansas during the Second World War that connected with the main Trailways stations. It is all Jim, and it’s very honest and very moving.

    When there was enough money in the ticket box on the bus, they’d stop at a restaurant, and his dad would say, “OK, the sky’s the limit.”

    Whenever Jim and — sat down with us at dinner or family or with a few couples, Jim would sit down and say, “OK, the sky’s the limit.”


  • Stephen Breyer:

    That picks up something, because he — it’s hard to communicate how much fun he was to be with.

  • Robert MacNeil:


  • Stephen Breyer:

    And it’s partly because he was so interested in everything, and he did have a great sense of humor. And…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he was surprising in that way.

    He used to tease me about having left PBS for a while to go to work at one of the cable channels. He would tease me that I had gone to work for the Home Shopping Network.


  • Stephen Breyer:


  • Judy Woodruff:

    He never — he never let go of that one.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    He couldn’t believe you would leave, Judy.


  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    The other side of it…

  • Robert MacNeil:

    Judy, he was the best man at — when I was married in 1984.

    And, in his toast, he said: “It must be love. Who else would marry a 54-year-old man with braces?”


  • Stephen Breyer:

    And it isn’t just the jokes. But look at how each of us, when we’re thinking of him today, is smiling.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:


  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Robert MacNeil:


  • Stephen Breyer:

    And it’s a sad day, and we’re smiling because we’re thinking of him and his personality and just the fun of being with him.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    And, for all that fun and humor, he had a very serious, with Robin, responsibility.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    He did.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    And they created the half-hour show, then the hour show, which the stations didn’t really think they wanted, until we convinced them they needed it.

    And, basically, it was a very important enterprise to run, to lead, and to keep the respect for.

    So, when the day came that he finally decided, I think, to just no longer be on the air, he came over to see me in my office.

    And I said: “Jim, I will come to you.”

    I always go to his office. He doesn’t come to my office.

    He said: “No, no, I’m coming to you.”

    I had no idea what it was about.

    He said: “Sharon, do you want the ‘NewsHour’?”

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    I said, “Yes.”

    This was a five-second transaction, but I knew what that meant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was an important…


  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    You’re going to care about it as much as we do. You’re going to put your heart and soul into it. You’re going to be an advocate. You’re going to be a defender. No matter what goes on, you’re going to carry on Robin’s and my legacy.

    He didn’t say those words, but that’s exactly what he meant.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It mattered…

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    And I hope I’m doing that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It mattered so much to him.

    And there is the legacy. We’re talking about the great — the love of life that Jim Lehrer had. But he does leave a profound legacy, the man who moderated more presidential debates, Justice Breyer, than anyone else, 12 debates, who left a legacy of journalism that I think — that endures and will endure forever.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    I hope people watch the recordings of those debates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, for sure.

  • Stephen Breyer:

    And they watch how he did it.

    I mean, he left, I think — he contributed a lot. He contributed to his family, whom he loved. He contributed to his friends and associates, which is obvious. And I think he contributed a great deal to the United States of America.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And he cared about this country, Robin.

    That — maybe that goes back to his being a Marine. He loved this country. He would almost get teary when he talked about what it meant to him to be an American.

  • Robert MacNeil:

    It took me — it took me, as a Canadian, a long time in this country to finally come around to becoming an American citizen.

    Canadians kind of identify themselves as, well, we’re not American, but we’re great friends of America.

    I think the America I became a citizen of was one that I knew through Jim Lehrer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there’s no greater compliment than that.

  • Sharon Percy Rockefeller:

    What a tribute.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What a tribute.

    Thank you all. It means so much that you’re here, Robert MacNeil, Justice Stephen Breyer, Sharon Rockefeller.

    Thank you.

    . . .

Remembering Jim Lehrer

Anne Azzi Davenport and Jeffrey Brown, January 23, 2020

PBS NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer, a giant in journalism known for his tenacity and dedication to simply delivering the news, died peacefully in his sleep at home on Thursday, at the age of 85.

For Jim, being a journalist was never a self-centered endeavor. He always told those who worked with him: “It’s not about us.”

Night after night, Jim led by example that being yourself — journalist, writer, family man, citizen — can be a high calling.

For 36 years, Jim began the nightly newscast with a simple phrase: “Good Evening, I’m Jim Lehrer.”

As an anchor of several iterations of the NewsHour, Jim reported the news with a clear sense of purpose and integrity– even as the world of media changed around him.

Jim and his journalism partner Robert MacNeil’s approach to reporting the news became known as the “MacNeil-Lehrer style of journalism.” Their approach helped lay the foundation for modern public media reporting.

The nine tenets that governed his philosophy included the assumption that “the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am,” that “there is at least one other side or version to every story,” that separating “opinion and analysis from straight news stories” must be done clearly and carefully, and last but not least: “I am not in the entertainment business.”

Jim was born in 1934 in Wichita, Kansas, the son of Lois, a bank clerk, and Harry, a bus station manager.

He attended Victoria College in Texas and then studied journalism at the University of Missouri.

Having his father and brother before him enlist in the Marines, Jim served three years as an infantry officer in the late 1950s, including time in the Pacific. He saw no combat, but spoke often of how the experience shaped him.

“Seldom a day goes by, that I don’t know that I am doing something because of something I learned in the Marine Corps,” he said at a 2010 parade the Corps put on, in his honor.

In 1960, Jim married his lifelong partner and love, Kate Staples.

He also began his journalism career in earnest that year. He reported for both the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times-Herald from 1959 to 1966, covering local politics. He became the Times-Herald’s city editor in 1968.

On Nov. 22, 1963, a rainy morning, Jim was asked by an editor to check on one aspect of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to Dallas: Would the president’s limousine have a plexiglass bubble top attached to shield him and the first lady from rain? In 2014, he told the NewsHour that he approached a secret service agent to ask that question, and that the agent then proceeded to direct the bubble’s removal from the car.

Jim was also at the Dallas police station when Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s assassin, was brought in for questioning.

“I wrote his name down. I still have the notebook. I’m one of those people who asked, hey, did you shoot the president?” Jim recalled.

MacNeil, who would go on to become Jim’s lifelong friend and partner in journalism, also covered the assassination for NBC News. They both described the experience of bearing witness to such a significant historical event, and its long-lasting effects on them personally, during an appearance on the NewsHour.

“What I took away and have taken away — and it still overrides everything that I have done in journalism since — what the Kennedy assassination did for me was forever keep me aware of the fragility of everything, that, on any given moment, something could happen,” Jim said, “I mean, my God, if they could shoot the president–”

“And that president,” MacNeil added.

Jim said that because of that day, when he became city editor, he “had a rule that every phone that rang in that newsroom got answered, because you never knew who was on the other line.”

Lehrer’s television career was also launched in Dallas, at public station KERA. His move to the national stage with PBS was when he became a correspondent for what was then called the National Public Affairs Center for Television, or NPAT.

It was there he first joined MacNeil to cover another watershed moment — the Watergate hearings in 1973.

In addition to gavel-to-gavel coverage throughout the day, Jim presented a rebroadcast with analysis late into the night — some 250 hours in all. Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil’s broadcast helped guide viewers through hours of testimony, years before the concept of the 24-hour news cycle.

“The senators, as well as the rest of us who are interested, will have to make the ultimate choice between believing John Dean or Bob Haldeman. That’s the way it looks to me at 3:00 in the morning,” Jim reported at the time, while smiling. “Feel free to disagree.”

Some 70,000 letters poured in, praising the team and its work.

“We began life in October 1975 as ‘The Robert MacNeil Report,’” Jim said, reminiscing on the 40th anniversary of the Watergate hearings. “And months later, became ‘The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.’ In those days, we dealt with one story for half an hour.”

In 1983, the program expanded to one hour of news and analysis and was renamed The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. Twelve years later, MacNeil retired, and the program became The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

Over the years, Jim interviewed numerous leading figures on the world stage, including Margaret Thatcher and Yasser Arafat in the 1980s, South Korean President Kim Daejung and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin in the 1990s, and Jordan’s King Abdullah and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the 2000s.

Jim daily examined major turning points in the life of the nation and world. He pressed experts from the business world and military brass, as well as America’s top political figures.

During one of Jim’s most notable interviews, he pressed President Bill Clinton about accusations regarding his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and the subsequent investigation into his conduct.

“The news of this day is that Kenneth Starr, independent counsel, is investigating allegations that you suborned perjury by encouraging a 24-year-old woman, former White House intern, to lie under oath in a civil deposition about her having had an affair with you,” Jim said in the interview with Clinton. “Mr. President, is that true?”

Clinton denied the allegation.

“That is not true. That is not true,” Clinton told Jim. “I did not ask anyone to tell anything other than the truth. There is no improper relationship and I intend to cooperate with this inquiry, but that is not true.”

Jim was calm and careful in moments of crisis, as demonstrated by his coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“I’m Jim Lehrer. Terrorists used hijacked airliners to kill Americans on this, September 11, 2001,” Jim reported on national television. “Another day of infamy for the United States of America.”

“Jim’s intelligence is so laser-like, no matter what he’s applying it to, that’s how he treats any situation, no matter how we treat a certain news story or what a news story means,” MacNeil said this of his partner.

“I learned a lot from him, about his very direct manner of interviewing,” MacNeil added. “And not being afraid to say ‘you don’t understand’ or ‘you don’t know.’ But also his extraordinary ability to listen. You know the hardest thing to do on TV is to listen.”

MacNeil described how Jim was able to moderate a discussion of several people and never drop important points.

“He’s brilliant at that. Nobody does it better than he does. Brilliant. I learned a lot about the fundamental meaning of fairness,” MacNeil said.

Perhaps nowhere was this seen better than on the largest stage of all, with upwards of 60 million viewers: as moderator of 12 presidential debates– more than any other person in U.S. history.

His first was in 1988, his last in 2012. In 1996 and 2000, he moderated all the presidential debates — the first person to do that.

For Americans, Jim would say, the debates are the one chance to take the measure of candidates side by side.

Jim’s wife, Kate, served as his main debate prep sounding-board.

“As soon as the process really gets underway it’s, ‘I’m Alice in Wonderland going in the rabbit hole. Praying to come out on the other side,’” Kate said in 2012 when discussing Jim’s book, “Tension City,” which was a reflection on his role in presidential debates.

Jim likened moderating the debates to “walking down the blade of a knife.”

“It’s not a lot of fun, but if you get to the other end, it’s really exciting,” Jim said in 2012. “When a debate is over that I moderate, I want to be able, I want everybody to say, O.K., here you have seen and heard the candidates for president of the United States on the same stage at the same time talking about the same things. You can judge them. I mean, do you like this guy? Is he telling the truth? All that kind of stuff. And you see them right there together — it’s a huge test.”

But Jim’s life wasn’t all tension and worldly affairs.

One of his great passions was on display in his basement at home and his office at work: the intercity bus memorabilia Jim had collected over the years. It was a reminder of his father’s career and his own childhood in Kansas.

There was also Jim Lehrer, the prolific writer. He was the author of some 20 novels, drawing on his life as a newsman, as well as his interest in history and politics. He also wrote plays and three memoirs.

One early novel, “Viva Max!”, was turned into a film starring Peter Ustinov and Jonathan Winters. The political satire featured a modern day Mexican general who crosses into the U.S.. to retake the Alamo.

“I write a little bit on my fiction everyday. It’s just what I do,” Jim once said.

Jim earned dozens of journalism awards and honorary degrees.

He was given the National Humanities Medal by Clinton, elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and with MacNeil, inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.

Although he insisted on not being the center of attention when reporting the news, at one important juncture in his life, Jim did tell a deeply personal story: the major heart attack that almost killed him in 1983.

The documentary “My Heart, Your Heart” captured how the scare led him to a change in diet and lifestyle. Among other things, he would become a committed afternoon “napper” — there was no disturbing Jim between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.

One priority that never changed was his family. Jim and Kate — herself the author of three novels — had three daughters: Jamie, Lucy and Amanda. He also had six grandchildren.

Jim stepped down as full-time anchor of the NewsHour in 2011.

Late in his tenure, he closed a speech to PBS stations managers this way:

“We really are the fortunate ones in the current tumultuous world of journalism right now, because when we wake up in the morning, we only have to decide what the news is and how we are going to cover it. We never have to decide who we are and why we are there. That is the way it has been for these nearly 35 years and that’s the way it will be forever. And for the NewsHour, there will always be a forever.”

From Judy Woodruff: Longtime PBS NewsHour Anchor and Co-Founder Jim Lehrer Has Passed Away at 85

The PBS NewsHour’s Gretchen Frazee and Molly Finnegan contributed to this report.

. . .

How Jim Lehrer is being remembered

Nation, January 23, 2020, updated January 24, 2020

Politicians, fellow journalists and friends are remembering Jim Lehrer, NewsHour co-founder and longtime executive editor and anchor, as a legendary journalist.

Lehrer died Thursday at the age of 85.

Read some of the remembrances below:

Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour anchor

Jim Lehrer, our founding anchor died this morning. We are heartbroken here at the Newshour. Jim’s legacy of journalism is with us everyday. We want to send our love and deepest condolences to Kate, Jim’s wife, his children, his three daughters, and their grandchildren.

Former President Bill Clinton

I liked and admired Jim Lehrer. He believed news is a public good, not a commodity. And he was always completely on the level in reporting, interviewing, and moderating debates. His life was a gift that strengthened our democracy.

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Former President Jimmy Carter

Rosalynn and I are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jim Lehrer. America is fortunate to have had the benefit of his substantive, insightful reporting for so many years. We have lost a tenacious yet courtly journalist who always sought to present the facts in a balanced and objective manner. Our prayers are with his wife, Kate, and family at this time.

Former Vice President Al Gore

I’m deeply saddened about the passing of Jim Lehrer, an icon of American journalism. I knew Jim as a consummate professional, reporter, and debate moderator. His reliable voice and thorough coverage will be greatly missed.

Dan Rather, journalist

In the trenches of electronic journalism over the decades, I met a lot of people. Few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer. He was a gentlemen, and a helluva journalist. He will be missed.

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and first lady

Jim Lehrer was a steady voice for truth, a prolific writer, and the soul of @NewsHour. We’ll miss him. Bill and I send our condolences to his family.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

So sad to hear about Jim Lehrer’s passing. We’ll miss his commitment to public journalism and his knack of getting the story right with as many facts and as little bias as possible. Jim’s perspective on current events was incomparable. My thoughts are with his family.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House

Our nation has lost a champion for truth and transparency. As one of the founders of PBS NewsHour, as well as its longtime host, Jim Lehrer worked to keep America’s leaders accountable to the people. My prayers are with his wife, Kate, and their family.

Mr. Lehrer on the set of “NewsHour” in an undated photo. “I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity,” Mr. Lehrer said. “News is information that’s required in a democratic society.”

Jim Lehrer, Longtime PBS News Anchor, Is Dead at 85

For 36 years, mostly teaming with Robert MacNeil, he offered an alternative to network evening news programs with in-depth reporting, interviews and news analysis.

Katie Couric, journalist

In this age of bitterly partisan journalism, Jim Lehrer was an exemplar of fair, measured, objective reporting. He will be missed.

Bret Baier, journalist

Truly a major loss — R.I.P. Jim Lehrer – a legend in our business & a very genuine, gracious man in person. One of the best debate moderators & an inspiration to a whole generation of political journalists— including this one.

From Judy Woodruff: Longtime PBS NewsHour Anchor and Co-Founder Jim Lehrer Has Passed Away at 85

Washington, DC (January 23, 2020) — It is with great sadness that I share the news that co-founder and longtime anchor of the PBS NewsHour Jim Lehrer died today, Thursday, January 23, 2020, peacef…

Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia

Sad day for all of America. Loved Jim Lehrer. He was so good to me, now thirty years ago, when I first started appearing on his show. A great time for us all to remember the value of his commitment to nonpartisan reporting and inquiry.

 Yamiche Alcindor

It’s a sad day at @NewsHour.

The founder of this program and longtime anchor, managing editor and soul of this program, Jim Lehrer, has passed away. 

Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kansas

Kansans are remembering longtime journalist and native Wichitan Jim Lehrer, who passed away earlier today. Known for his calm and steady delivery of the news, Lehrer co-founded the PBS NewsHour and moderated numerous presidential debates.

Larry King, talk show host

Jim Lehrer was one hell of a newsman and an industry standard for what a journalist should be. My condolences to his family and PBS colleagues.

Commission on Presidential Debates

Jim Lehrer was a pioneer in the general election debates. As moderator of 12 CPD debates, he introduced new formats that significantly enhanced the educational value of these historic forums. America has lost an extraordinary journalist & a great patriot.

Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development and mayor of San Antonio

Jim Lehrer was a pioneer in the general election debates. As moderator of 12 CPD debates, he introduced new formats that significantly enhanced the educational value of these historic forums. America has lost an extraordinary newsman and a great patriot.

Jim Lehrer was giant in journalism. He was also a legend at our high school alma mater, Jefferson High School in San Antonio.

He inspired so many to pursue a career in journalism, and left an impact on many more who followed his reporting.

He inspired so many to pursue a career in journalism, and left an impact on many more who followed his reporting. 

Remembering Jim Lehrer

PBS NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer, a giant in journalism known for his tenacity and dedication to simply delivering the news, died Thursday at the age of 85.

The U.S. Marine Corps

Jim Lehrer upheld the values of the Corps and truly embodied what it means to be a Marine. Semper Fidelis.

Andrea Mitchell

 Journalist, novelist, family man, Marine.. #JimLehrer was a man of civility and integrity. And a dear friend 

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister

Jim Lehrer was a giant in journalism who delivered the news to millions with integrity & poise, setting a high bar for all who followed. My thoughts are with his loved ones, colleagues, and all his adoring viewers.

Alexander Cartwright, University of Missouri chancellor

“I was fortunate enough to get to know Jim Lehrer during #Mizzou’s Hall of Fame and hear about the
@mujschool’s impact on his remarkable career. He was an outstanding representative of the university and exemplified the excellence of our alumni.”

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The PBS NewsHour’s Rebecca Newman and Gretchen Frazee contributed to this report.

. . .

How Jim Lehrer’s colleagues remember his life and legacy

Gretchen Frazee, January 24, 2020, updated January 25, 2020

Jim Lehrer, PBS NewsHour co-founder and anchor of 36 years, left a lasting mark on the world of journalism. But for those who worked with him, his influence was deeply personal.

Jim’s legacy remains an integral part of the work we do every day at the NewsHour and its parent company, WETA. Here are some remembrances from his former colleagues that provide a glimpse into what he meant to us and the program over the years.

Do you want to share your memories of Jim Lehrer? Leave your memories and comments in our form. We’ll share them with Jim’s family and may use some online and on the PBS NewsHour.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, special correspondent

As the first substitute anchor on The MacNeil/Lehrer Report in 1977, I learned a lot from just watching Jim. And while he had a lot to teach me, it was always by example, never a critical word. One of my lingering memories was when Nelson Mandela was about to be released from prison and my producer, Jacqui Farmer, and I had immediately made reservations to fly to South Africa the next day. But when Jim was called and told of my plans by Les Crystal, the executive producer, I got a call shortly thereafter from Les who said Jim said the only way he would agree to the trip was if I could guarantee an interview with Mandela. Well…without thinking twice, I said, “You got it.” And, of course, honoring my word to Jim was all important. So guess what? I got it. And despite the dozens of journalists from all over the world who had descended on his little house in Soweto, ee got one of the only two half hours with him. NO WAY I COULD LET JIM LEHRER DOWN. That and so much more, as his colleague and friend. Long Live!

Joanne Elgart Jennings, former field producer

I thank my lucky stars every day for coming of age as a journalist under Jim’s leadership. His integrity and commitment to fairness and truth (even when it’s hard to find) are evident in the rules he wrote for himself and expected of his staff. As a former Marine, he ran a tight ship and respected the chain of command; but he always made each one of us, no matter how junior or geographically far we were from NewsHour’s studios, to feel part of an extended family. A spoof newscast he recorded for my dad’s 80th birthday meant the world to my father. He was so proud that I got to work for Jim Lehrer. I am too. Onward.

Peggy Robinson, former senior producer

I worked with Jim Lehrer for some 35 years. He was the most decent man I have ever known! And that’s saying a lot in this profession! I have always suspected that Kate and their three daughters had a most positive effect/influence on Jim! This was especially true when it came to promoting women in all the iterations of the NewsHour and MacNeil/Lehrer from the early Report days and onward!

He was a disciplined writer, a great teacher and a wonderful mentor!

Having started at the program in 1978 as his “secretary” and the program’s production secretary, I learned early on the importance of clarity and succinctness and, most of all, anything and everything that had to do with buses! I was most fortunate in spending my “news” career with this wonderful man! He will be missed especially by those of us who worked with him all those years!

Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil meet with colleagues Judy Woodruff and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil meet with colleagues Judy Woodruff and Charlayne Hunter-Gault.

Annette Miller, vice president of NewsHour Productions

Jim hired me more than 40 years ago as a reporter for the tiny Washington staff of The Robert MacNeil Report. He has been my mentor and good friend ever since. I learned just about everything I know about the rights and wrongs of journalism from him.

He and Robin MacNeil created a cause for us to rally around as the rest of the journalism world seemed to be heading in a dangerous direction. They had an unfailing compass about the profession and how it should be practiced. And, we followed their lead, always excited to come to work each day and never once embarrassed by where we worked. It is a rare gift and a great legacy.

Jim was also an unfailing friend in so many ways, personally and professionally. I will feel his presence and his guidance for all of my life.

Lee Koromvokis, producer

I worked in the New York office for Robin so I didn’t know Jim as well as I would have liked, but of course I had huge admiration and respect for him … and a healthy amount of fear (ex-Marine!) So it was with some trepidation that I called him late one weekday afternoon 20+ years ago, from a flea market where I was shooting. I had come across a mint condition bus company sign and was torn between wanting to let him know about a potential addition to his collection vs. not wanting to disturb him so close to air time. I decided to leave a message with his secretary Roma, including the seller’s contact information, that she could relay after the show. But as soon as I mentioned “bus sign,” Roma said “hold for Mr. Lehrer,” and suddenly Jim himself was on the line grilling me about the sign. Unable to provide much detail other than “it’s very big,” I passed the phone to the dealer, and it didn’t take long for them to establish that Jim already owned one just like it. And when I took the phone to say goodbye, Jim couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious – even if was so close to air time!

Anne Azzi Davenport, senior coordinating producer for CANVAS- Arts and Culture

Viewers saw Jim define “gravitas” each night, and colleagues generally experienced the serious side of Jim each day as we were dealing with the crush of news. But, there was also a hugely joyous side to Jim that showed his big heart and inspired us to work even harder. When I left network producing to join the NewsHour 20 years ago, it was because Jim had the great foresight to birth a Media Unit to “report and analyze the issues that drive news coverage.”

Along with media correspondent Terence Smith and our team, we did that for many years across the country — and with good impact. Jim was also a supporter of the arts, and of course a well-published author, and so he wanted his program to always provide that salve for the soul, even in the busiest of news cycles. Along with arts correspondent Jeff Brown, and with the support of our management, we continue that legacy to this day. Again, Jim had the vision that the arts should have a home on this program and we should offer viewers a different lens through which to view the world.

I felt as though I had the best peak into Jim’s love of all things political, arts and journalism generally when I rummaged through old folders and photos in his basement office one day for a piece. He loved to look back, yes, but he also always had one step into the future. Thank you for that, Jim.

Patti Parson, managing producer

So much has been said about Jim’s journalistic influence on us –- all true! He kept us thinking, he kept us on our toes in terms of the kind of reporting we did and the questions we asked. But there were other sides to him: his laugh, which I keep hearing in my head, his sense of humor, the books and plays he wrote, his floor-to-ceiling display of bus memorabilia…he even owned a bus! He showed us the life inside journalism. But he also showed us that there was a full life, with room for family and enjoyment and, always, whatever the focus, dedication.

Producer Patti Parson works with Jim Lehrer during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo courtesy: Patti Parson

Producer Patti Parson works with Jim Lehrer during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Photo courtesy Patti Parson

Murrey Jacobson, senior producer

Jim could be funny and generous. And he could be tough and intimidating too. If you screwed up or missed something that he thought was important, he’d let you know it because he had such high standards for what made air and wanted to make sure it was a program you could be proud of. There were times when I didn’t agree with a call he made, and times when he didn’t agree with my take or approach. But Jim would come by later on to apologize privately if he thought he had gone too far, and to encourage me to still push for a story or guest or idea I believed in. I didn’t always win. But I always thought that was an important attribute he brought as the managing editor of the program — ensuring the producers would reach higher for stories they were pursuing.

Debbie Eliason, senior director of planned gifts

I met Jim Lehrer at a breakfast event for WHRO, the public broadcasting station for Hampton Roads, on the morning before I started working at that station in 2005. The room was packed with supporters and they absolutely hung on Jim’s words. He was informative, entertaining, and beloved. When I joined the staff of WETA in 2012, I heard wonderful stories about Jim from my colleagues in production and at PBSNewHour. It was always a delight to see him return, and I am honored to be affiliated with PBS NewsHour and WETA today. We sure could use more Jim Lehrers in journalism today, but his legacy continues at WETA and on PBS. I hope many wonderful memories of Jim bring comfort to all who worked with him and loved him.

Franmarie Kennedy, development

One of my favorite memories of Jim was at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Walter Isaacson awarded Jim the Aspen Lifetime Achievement Award. During Walter’s presentation, he asked Jim to tell the audience about one of Jim’s first jobs announcing the local bus schedules. Jim did more than just describe the job, he gave an impressive and hilarious rendition of his bus calling expertise. The Aspen audience gave him a standing ovation. It was a privilege to be in the audience.

Anna Berke, director of foundation and government development

As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I remember Jim Lehrer on my television set every evening for the The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour…the old intro music indicated to me that it was time to be quiet so my parents could watch the news. I’ll admit, it wasn’t my favorite time of day as a kid, but as an adult I am so glad that my parents exposed me to the high quality tv and public affairs programming that Jim Lehrer offered his audiences. I never had the opportunity to meet Jim, but am proud that my work at WETA allows me to support and promote his legacy.

Jim Lehrer on the set of the NewsHour.

Jim Lehrer on the set of the NewsHour.

Elizabeth Collaton, director of foundation & government development

I bumped into Jim Lehrer for the first time just a few months ago at Best Buns bakery, yet I felt like I had know him my whole life. His voice was a constant presence in my household growing up, and his easy partnership with Robin MacNeil on MacNeil-Lehrer as we called it, encouraged all of us to be measured in our response to the ups and downs of the news cycle. I told Mr. Lehrer it was an honor to meet him after all this time. He was just as gracious as I expected him to be, telling me to “keep up the great work” at WETA and NewsHour. My thoughts are with his family.

Laura Santhanam, data producer

For decades, Jim Lehrer’s reasoned voice told us the stories of our time in his straight-forward style of journalism. Turns out, that is exactly the kind of measured reporting our nation has needed to find common ground and to overcome division. I watched him long before having the good fortune of working here. This place he forged misses him very much, but hopefully, we all carry a piece of his legacy forward with every deadline we meet and every story we share. Thank you for everything, Jim.

Jim Lehrer sits beside Gwen Ifill during an editorial meeting in his office, which was decorated with bus memorabilia. Photo by Daniel Sagalyn

Jim Lehrer sits beside Gwen Ifill during an editorial meeting in his office, which was decorated with bus memorabilia. Photo by Daniel Sagalyn

Lydia Breiseth, director of Colorín Colorado, WETA Learning Media

I watched The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour every night with my father while I was growing up. One day my sixth-grade teacher asked me, “Do you watch MacNeil/Lehrer?” I was amazed at her deductive powers! It was an honor to share that brief story with Jim a few months ago when he came into the office – and his fist pump was just as gratifying. I feel grateful to have had exposure to such high-quality journalism starting at a young age and to now work alongside wonderful colleagues who continue that legacy every day at NewsHour. My deep sympathies to his family and colleagues who have lost a beloved mentor and friend and, as Debbie says above, will find comfort in many good memories and an appreciation of his indelible mark on American journalism.

Victoria Pasquantonio, NewsHour Extra

I run NewsHour Extra, NewsHour’s classroom resource website. Teachers come up to me all of the time in schools and at education conferences to say how much Jim Lehrer meant to them growing up and how much he factored into their decision to become a teacher. I know because I was one of those teachers. I taught middle and high school social studies for 13 years before coming to the NewsHour. Lehrer’s insightful and empathic approach to journalism inspired me to think critically and care about what’s going on in the world and to pass these values on to my students.

Extra is currently working on a new website for students on the history of journalism, so I’ve gotten to go through a ton of old footage of Lehrer and Robert MacNeil covering the Watergate hearings. Lehrer’s nuanced, discerning reporting gives me pause and forces me to think a little deeper every time I hear it. In one clip, Lehrer talks about the “little guys” — the men who followed along and did what they were told — “the spear carriers for the generals,” he calls them. Lehrer’s clear to say how they, too, deserve their comeuppance, if the case calls for it, but that it can’t just be them, and not those at the top. That’s as close to political poetry as I’ll ever hear it.

Debra McElroy Butler, archivist

When I was in college, one of my professors would go on and on about a little-known news program on PBS called the MacNeil/Lehrer Report. He raved about it being true journalism at its best, and urged his students to watch it. Who knew I would be working on that program just a few years later. I learned so much about the do’s and don’ts of journalism –and life — from Jim Lehrer. For me, Jim was more than a consummate journalist. He was a great friend and mentor. I came to know his wonderful wife, Kate, and their three beautiful daughters. Jim was an especially kind and caring person. I could talk with him about anything and he always offered sage advice when necessary. He often inquired about my family and was genuinely concerned. It is my honor to have known such a man as Jim Lehrer. I will miss him, but he will live on in all of our hearts and minds.

Lee Banville, professor of journalism at the University of Montana, former editor of the Online NewsHour

For the first few years of our existence, the digital (or online or web or internet) team at the NewsHour worked squirreled away in a corner office of the MacNeil/Lehrer offices across the “creek” from the studio. We were making up what it meant to be a website for a nightly broadcast and we were pretty sure no one was watching too closely.

But Jim was.

One day we were summoned across the creek to the office, with its bus memorabilia and gravitas. It was terrifying. We trooped in there, I was somewhere in my mid- to late-20s and in charge. Jim had a message that was crystal clear — those kids from online and the NewsHour were one and the same and it was about time we all behaved that way.

It was a heady and frightening change. Instead of sitting around the big table in the online room and making things up, we now had to live up to the standards Jim and the broadcast team were so famed for.

Jim expected us to keep up and it was a thrilling and daunting challenge. He understood that audiences were getting their news in new ways and we had to serve those folks, even as we continued to make a quality broadcast program. He got us started and made sure the idea that “it was good enough to put online” was not a NewsHour standard. His instance that we always strive to do better served as my journalism graduate program and I brought his teachings out here to Montana to train hundreds of young journalists. I hope I live up to the teach I had, because I cannot convey how much he taught me.

. . .

The following is an excerpt from the weekly Friday discussion on The NewsHour of issues with Judy Woodruff, David Brooks and Karen Tumulty (substituting for Mark Shields) on January 24, 2020.

  • Judy Woodruff:


    The last thing I want to bring up is somebody David knows very, very well.

    And, Karen, you knew Jim Lehrer as well.

    But, David, you came to this program when Jim was the anchor. And we lost him yesterday. He died in his sleep.

    It’s a huge loss for all of us at the “NewsHour.”

    Tell us a little bit about the Jim Lehrer you knew.

  • David Brooks:


    Well, I did 10 years in this building with him face to face and with Mark.

    And the story I always tell is, I was a budding young version of this. And when I would say something that he thought he liked, that met the standards of the “NewsHour,” his eyes would crinkle in pleasure. I’d see this little twinkle.

    And then when I said something that was a little crass and not worthy of the “NewsHour,” I would see his mouth turn down in displeasure.

    So, for 10 years, I just chased the crinkle, and I tried to avoid the mouth downturn.


  • David Brooks:

    And — but, in that subtle way, without ever saying a word, he taught me how to do this.

    And he set a standard of excellence. And, of course, it wasn’t just me. It was all of us who work in this building. And so he created this moral ecology where we understood what was the right way to do this. And that lives on today.

    And what could be greater than passing down a moral ecology that defines what excellence is?

    And the final thing I would just like to say is, off the air, he was way wilder than he was on the air.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Than anybody ever knew by watching him on TV.

  • David Brooks:

    Much funnier, and so — very big person.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It’s interesting you use the term moral ecology, because, last night, I interviewed Robert MacNeil, who, of course, is his longtime co-founder, co-anchor, who used the term, I think, moral intelligence.

    He said, he was very smart, but he had a moral intelligence. He applied what was right to everything he did.

    Karen, you followed his career as another journalist in this city.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I did, and admired him as…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In Texas.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    … as a fellow San Antonian, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That’s right. That’s right.

  • Karen Tumulty:

    I think it was — it was sort of a wonderful, almost historical coincidence that he and the “NewsHour” came along when they did, right before the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, and then that we have seen accelerate even so much more with social media.

    I mean, what he really understood is that you need to take time. You need to sometimes pause. You need to go deeper into a subject. You need to ask why and how.

    And that is what really would be lost these days, if it weren’t for people like Jim Lehrer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it’s something that — there’s a lot of discussion right now, David, about what’s happened to the news media. We’re being challenged by the president and others, who say we are — we are biased, we’re not doing the job we should be doing, and that — and that the news is flying by too fast.

    So, it seems to me the principles that Jim laid down are really important ones for us to…


  • David Brooks:


    One of the great dinner parties I ever went to in my life was with Jim, his wife, Kate, and Robin, and Bob Schieffer. And they talked about Dallas November 22, 1963, where they were all there. Dan Rather was there, not at the dinner, but — and they just — you realized, they covered all those events from Dallas to Obama.

    And it was a generation of journalism at its finest. And some people have said it’s the passing of an era. And, in some ways, it is, but we’re still here. And we try to carry on in that tradition.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes. It’s — they had quite a remarkable — quite a remarkable history.

    Well, we will carry on at the “NewsHour,” but it’s — it’s clearly a loss that — a loss that we mark.

    Karen Tumulty, thank you very much. David Brooks, thank you.

. . .

The NewsHour family remembers Jim Lehrer

Lorna Baldwin, January 24, 2020

As we continue to grieve the loss of our co-founder and former anchor, Jim Lehrer, we close with the voices of our staff, past and present, and NewsHour family. Jim touched so many lives and leaves an indelible imprint on our hearts — and as this week’s outpouring shows, on those of many of our viewers, too.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we continue to grieve the loss of our co-founder and former anchor Jim Lehrer, we want to close tonight with the voices of our own staff and “NewsHour” family.

    We know he touched so many lives, and the outpouring from you, our viewers, has also touched us all.

    For those of us lucky enough to know Jim personally, he leaves an indelible imprint on our hearts.

  • Morgan Till, Foreign Affairs Senior Producer:

    He cared about us, he cared about the viewers, and he cared about the news. And all of those things together are a rare commodity in this day and age.

  • Mary Jo Brooks, Former Producer:

    It’s been 28 years since I wrote news summary copy for Jim Lehrer, and still, every single time I write a sentence, I still have his voice in my head: Is it correct, is it fair, and are you using as few words as possible?

  • Diane Lincoln, Producer:

    I remember I would go down to the control room and watch the stories that I had produced as they aired.

    And one of the screens up on the wall showed Jim Lehrer sitting at the anchor’s desk. And he would watch the pieces as they aired. And, sometimes, he would look disinterested, which wasn’t good. But, sometimes, he would get really interested, and he would lean forward and smile. And that was always the goal.

  • Lorna Baldwin, Producer:

    Jim was like your best, but hardest teacher, the one you wanted to do your best work for.

    He held you to very high standards, and he let you know when you didn’t get it right. But, when you did get it right, he also let you know. And he made sure that others knew as well.

    Leah Clapman, Founder, “PBS NewsHour” Student Reporting Labs: Jim Lehrer will always represent for our students the best of journalism. He will always be the guiding light for the students doing work that is accurate, that is fair, and has integrity above all.

  • Terence Smith, Former Media Correspondent:

    Integrity was the key word, and it still is. That was Jim’s gift to all of us, and he should be remembered for it.

  • Amna Nawaz, National Correspondent:

    Watching Jim as a kid growing up, you knew that you were watching the standard. It was what journalism can be and what it should be.

    You saw that you could be skeptical, but civil. You could be tough, but you could be fair. And all of those things are still at the core of what we do at the “NewsHour.”

  • Mike Melia, Senior Broadcast Producer:

    Jim leaves behind a core set of principles: You, our viewers, are just as smart, if not smarter, than we are. And it’s our job to present the news, and you can make up your own mind.

  • Debra Whitaker, Studio Receptionist:

    When he used to come in and call me his friend, it would just make me feel real good, because it felt like I was a part of the “NewsHour” family.

  • Hamada Hanoura, Editor:

    A lot of people looked up to Jim as the reference of what true and good journalism is. And for us here at the “NewsHour,” we are and will be semper fi for the standards he set.

  • Sara Just, Executive Producer:

    If he sent an email saying good job, it really meant a lot. And I really cherish each one of those. There weren’t that many.


    But they were, each and every one of them, very much appreciated, and you knew he meant them.

  • Sarah Clune, Producer:

    We were having a meeting in his office. And he was giving us his advice about what it took to become a journalist.

    And he said: “If you hear a fire siren or a police siren, and you don’t wonder where it’s going or what it’s going for, then you probably don’t have the drive to be a journalist.”

    Julia Griffin, Senior Coordinator of Digital Video: My grandfather started going around introducing me as “Julia, my granddaughter who works for ‘The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.'”

    And I think that is a testament to the legacy of what Jim did and this organization. It has launched careers of hundreds of journalists, and we can all walk around a little bit taller saying that we worked here.

  • Hari Sreenivasan, Anchor:

    While the other channels made a business out of people yelling at each other all day long, he showed us night after night and showed me that it was, in fact, possible to create a program where people could disagree agreeably about matters that matter.

    So, Jim, thanks for taking a chance on me.

  • Elizabeth Farnsworth, Former Foreign Correspondent:

    He always felt that foreign stories were important and had to be told.

    And I remember that, in the morning meetings, if somebody suggested a story that maybe nobody had heard anything about, but that was a really important foreign story, Jim would say, we’re going to cover it. Who else will do it if we don’t?

  • Paul Solman, Economics Correspondent:

    Jim was sentimental. Jim was tough. Robin’s last night on the show, they said: Good night, Robin. Good night, Jim.

    And then in the control room, you saw the camera on Jim as he buried his head in his hands and sobbed.

  • Nancy Gerstman Morgan, Engineer-in-Charge:

    About 19 years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. It was very scary for me, and I was very nervous.

    And Jim Lehrer found me walking in the hall one day. And he said to me: “Your job is to tell me whatever it is you need, because whatever you need, I will make sure you get it.”

    Anne Azzi Davenport, Senior Coordinating Producer of Canvas/Arts and Culture: He loved his “NewsHour” family, and he loved the news. And, for that, we’re all the better.

    Jeffrey Brown, Arts and Culture Correspondent: There wasn’t the slightest bit of falseness or fakery in him.

    He was completely authentic. And it came through the screen. And I’m convinced it’s why he connected with millions and was so good at what he did.

  • Alexis Cox, Producer:

    To this day, when I’m writing news copy, I will often think in the back of my head, what would Jim do? And I know his journalistic standards will always stay ingrained in me for the rest of my life.

    Here are the rules that he had for journalism, as read by our staff:

    Daniel Cooney, Social Media Editor and Producer: Rule number one, do nothing I cannot defend.

  • Ryan Connelly Holmes, Report/Producer:

    Number two, cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.

  • Tim McPhillips, Night Production Assistant:

    Number three, assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.

  • Deema Zein, Associate Producer, Digital Video:

    Number four, assume that all viewers are as smart and caring and good a person as I am.

    And, number five, assume the same about all people on whom I report.

    Wyatt Mayes, Social Media Editor and Producer: Number six, assume personal lives are a private matter, until a turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.

    Ilana Bernstein, Assistant to the Executive Producer: Number seven, carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.

    James Williams, Executive Director of Digital Strategy: Number eight, do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should be allowed to attack another anonymously.

  • Candice Norwood, Digital Politics Producer:

    Number nine, I am not in the entertainment business.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It’s been said 100 times. Journalism matters in a democracy. Jim believed that with every fiber of his body. And we carry that with us every day, every hour in what we do at the “NewsHour.”

    So, Jim, you left us a gift that will be around forever. Our thank you, our love is endless. We miss you so much.

    And he was and is our North Star.

    And, online, we have gathered some of our favorite Jim sayings and observations. There, you can also share your own tribute to Jim. You can leave your memories and comments, and we will share them with Jim’s family.

    That’s on our website,

    . . .

Jim Lehrer, in his own words

Laura Santhanam and Joshua Barajas, January 24, 2020

For decades, journalist and PBS NewsHour co-founder Jim Lehrer narrated the nation’s story through clear, concise delivery of impartial journalism. He offered viewers the chance to hear different sides and find common ground, and over the years he offered insight into his philosophy. As his colleagues reflect on Lehrer and his legacy, we share some favorite moments from his speeches, interviews and daily life, so that you might hear and remember him as we do.

“Make your own judgments”

In 1973, Lehrer and Robert MacNeil broadcast the Watergate hearings for 47 days of gavel-to-gavel coverage, delivering ardently objective news coverage of the investigation into President Richard Nixon and his administration’s wrongdoing. They told the story straightforward and plainly.

“We are running it all each day because we think these hearings are important, and because we think it is important that you get a chance to see the whole thing and make your own judgments,” Lehrer told audiences at home on the first day of coverage.

Journalism has become “something to watch rather than to believe”

In a 1998 speech to international journalists, Lehrer offered one reason why he thought the industry’s credibility was in question, alongside lawyers and politicians: “Journalism, as practiced by some, has become akin to professional wrestling—something to watch rather than to believe,” he said.

He cited techniques like “talk show shouting and violence” and “no-source reporting” that harmed the audience’s trust in reporters, but he added that there was a so-called “new arrogance” among some of his peers.

“The fact that some in my line of work have developed an approach in words, sneers and body language that says loud and clear: Only the journalists of America are pure enough to judge others. And judge we must,” he said.

Jim Lehrer’s rules of journalism

In 2006 and in the early years of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, he delivered the commencement speech at Harvard University during a particularly divisive time in the nation’s history. In between making self-deprecating jokes about his appearance, he called on new graduates to rise above their own interests and serve others and noted how his own three years of military service transformed him.

“Beyond the benefits to individuals, connecting and connections are essential for our democratic society to work,” he said.

He called journalism at the NewsHour “the ultimate collaborative enterprise,” and laid out his ground rules for storytelling:

  • Do nothing I cannot defend.
  • Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
  • Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  • Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.
  • Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.
  • Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything.
  • Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should be able to attack another anonymously.
  • Finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Lessons learned

The three years Lehrer served as a U.S. Marine were formative, he often said. In 2006, he recalled the day he arrived in Quantico, Virginia, for basic training and the moment he corrected how his drill instructor pronounced his last name. He quickly learned not to do that again.

“It isn’t easy to write a novel about a good man”

For such a purveyor of truth, Lehrer was also a prolific fiction writer. Amid all the hours he spent shaping and anchoring the NewsHour’s broadcasts, as well as moderating presidential debates, he also wrote more than 20 novels in his lifetime– many of them mysteries and thrillers.

One of his recurring characters was C.I.A. agent Charlie Henderson, who navigates various spycraft plots, and also demonstrated Lehrer’s understanding of the inner workings of Washington. And then there was “One-eyed Mack,” a fictional lieutenant governor of Oklahoma who borrowed biographical details from Lehrer’s Kansas and Texas roots.

When a Washington Post reporter asked Lehrer in 1994 about characters like One-eyed Mack, he said his character was “truly good.”

“It isn’t easy to write a novel about a good man. It’s harder, but more fun. If you are going to make up a friend, make up a good one.”

These thoughts about fiction bled into Lehrer’s own journalism philosophy. In the same Post feature, he recounted a city editor’s one-time advice to him: You should write every story as if it were about you.

“It’s easy to beat up on people. You can’t really be objective, but you can be fair,” he said.


It was Lehrer’s signature phrase. He used it among friends. He would write it on Post-it notes as a gesture of encouragement for colleagues. It appeared in his writing. It was a reminder to put your best foot forward, even after a mistake, to go forth with courage and conviction.

And it’s now being repeated in the newsroom with Jim no longer here.

Onward? Yes. Onward.