People Remembered: Jim Lehrer


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

Jim Lehrer, longtime PBS NewsHour anchor and recipient of the OPC’s President’s Award in 2009, died on Jan. 23  at age 85.

Lehrer hosted NewsHour for 36 years, starting in 1983, and moderated a dozen presidential debates. His career started at Dallas newspapers in the 1960s, where he covered the assassination of John F. Kennedy for the Dallas Times-Herald. He moved to PBS in 1972, where he met his longtime NewsHour cohost Robert MacNeil, and remained until his retirement in 2011.

Past President Allan Dodds Frank honored Lehrer with the President’s Award during the OPC’s 2009 Annual Awards Dinner.

Click the window above to watch a clip of Leher’s 2009 remarks on our YouTube Channel.

Dodds Frank said Lehrer “has been my friend and colleague since 1973, my business partner in MacNeil-Lehrer Productions, and the first person I go to when I have a serious dilemma to resolve — personal, moral or professional.”

Dodds Frank’s remarks are available here.

In his acceptance remarks, Lehrer shared credit with the show’s creator, Robert MacNeil, as well as the show’s news staff. Lehrer joked that the program was launched with “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.”

He also joked about his first time broadcasting publicly over a microphone, which was as a ticket agent at the Continental Trailways bus depot in South Texas. He said one of his duties “was to do what I’m going to do now, which is speak into a microphone thusly: ‘May I have your attention please,” he said, affecting the emphatic, robotic tone of an announcer. “This is your last call for Continental Trailways, 8:00 p.m. silver-side, air-conditioned through-liner to Houston now leaving from lane one,” he said, proceeding to name all of the stops along the line. “All aboard. Don’t forget your baggage please. Thank you very much.”

You can read a full transcript of Lehrer’s acceptance remarks here.

Below is an excerpt from the certificate he received from the OPC for his President’s Award.

“As he steadfastly enlightened us with news from around the world, his distinguishing brilliance has  been his seemingly simple quest for the truth,” the certificate read. “He is a multi-talented inspiration who gives us concise questions, level delivery, intelligent explanations and unmatched perspective night after night.”