Jim Lehrer’s Acceptance Remarks for the 2009 President’s Award

Photo: Larry D. Moore, Creative Commons license BY-SA 3.0.

The following is a transcript of acceptance remarks from Jim Lehrer, longtime PBS NewsHour anchor, upon receiving the OPC’s President’s Award in 2009. Lehrer died on Jan. 23, 2020, at age 85.

A video clip of his speech is available here.

Thank you very much.

It’s never gonna get any better than that, and I know that. To be honored by the Overseas Press Club is the ultimate honor for people who do this kind of work, our kind of work. I know that, and I will know it forever. And I will cherish it forever.

There is something else that I also know. And then I want you to know, forever. If there was ever an award to an individual that deserved to go to many, this is it tonight. Yes, for 35 years coverage of the news overseas has been at the heart of what we do on our little program. But the reason for that rests mostly on our creator, Robert MacNeil.

Winner of this very same award in 1995. He started our program in 1975. It had the single worst title in the history of television. It was called the Robert MacNeil report. And I was a simple humble Washington correspondent. But in a few months, my mother interceded, and it became the MacNeil/Lehrer report.

Fortunately, our collaboration was always based on shared journalistic values, but his journalistic values came from his experience as a foreign correspondent. First for the CBC then the BBC and then NBC, and that was before we got together on PBS. He brought years of travel and reporting to places all over the world. My foreign experience when we came together as partners, had been mostly in South Texas, Nuevo Laredo, and as an infantry platoon leader in the Marines and the Far East. But it was Robert who established our priorities for foreign coverage that exist to this very day, and will forever. And as you know, he is here tonight.

I am but one of the keepers of his flame, so to speak, along with Margaret Warner now, and Elizabeth Farnsworth before, who have done much of our on-the-ground forum reporting for our program. Linda Winslow, our executive producer now, her predecessor Les Crystal, who is now the president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, who is here tonight as well.

Yes, I thank you for this special attention to my achievements. But please, in television, there is no such thing as false modesty. So when I say, “I accept,” and speak mostly for the achievements of Robert MacNeil, and the others In our journalistic family who believe and maintain our commitment to covering the world around us, as well as us, please. I mean it, and now you know where it all began.

A couple of personal notes, and I will leave you alone for the evening.

This is award has to do with career, personal kinds of things. I want to take note of a few personal things. We all have mentors. I had a mentor. The late A.C. Green was a newspaper man when I became a reporter in the 1960s at the Dallas Times Herald. As coincidence would have it, his daughter, Meredith Green Mccall is here tonight. She works for the Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

A present mentor, Alan mentioned these incredible novels that I have written over the last years. That is because I am blessed – and there is not one person in this room – I don’t care if you do radio, I don’t care if you do TV, I don’t care if you do it in print and whatever kind of print you do, or whether you do it on a pink iPod with somebody named engraved on it. We all need editors. I have the best book editor there is Bob Loomis of Random House, who is also here tonight.

Finally, the most personal thing of all my wife Kate and I have three daughters and one of the three is here. Our daughter Lucy Lehrer who’s also a journalist, executive editor-in-chief of one of the crucial key magazines of the Scholastic group. She does the hard work as I tell her, she takes the news of the day, the important issues, and makes it understandable to kids, and she does it beautifully. Our daughter Lucy.

One final personal note, I know you’ll be delighted to hear this. The first time I was paid money to speak into a microphone – Alan mentioned something about buses – was in the 1950s. I was going to a small Junior College in South Texas, and I worked at night. As a ticket agent in the continental Trailways bus depot. And one of my duties. I’m sorry, MacNeil used to saying Lehrer, you are so emotional you’d tear up over a good light beer commercial. Well, I’ve done that. So be it.

Anyhow, I worked at night, as I as a ticket agent at a bus depot in Victoria Texas, which is on the Gulf Coast halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi. And one of my duties was to do what I’m going to do now, which is speak into a microphone thusly: “May I have your attention please. This is your last call for Continental Trailways, 8:10 p.m. Silverside air-conditioned through-liner to Houston now leaving from lane one. For Inez, Edna, Ganado, Louise, El Campo, Pierce, Wharton, Hungerford, Kendleton, Beasley, Rosenberg, Richmond, Sugarland, Stafford, Missouri City and Houston. All aboard. Don’t forget your baggage please.”

Thank you very much.