PBS Anchor Jim Lehrer Dead at 85

Jim Lehrer, co-founder of PBS NewsHour, died Jan. 23 at the age of 85. Lehrer spent 36 years at NewsHour.

“For Jim, being a journalist was never a self-centered endeavor. He always told those who worked with him: ‘It’s not about us,’” said PBS. “Night after night, Jim led by example that being yourself — journalist, writer, family man, citizen — can be a high calling.”

Lehrer was born in Wichita in 1934. He attended Victoria College in Texas and studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He spent three years as an infantry officer in the Marines.

Lehrer reported for both the Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times-Herald, according to PBS, from 1959 to 1966, covering local politics. He married Kate Staples in 1960. He became the Times-Herald’s city editor in 1968.

Lehrer’s television career began at KERA, a public station in Dallas. He later became correspondent at PBS, for the National Public Affairs Center for Television.

The Robert MacNeil Report premiered in October 1975 and The MacNeil/Lehrer Report debuted months later.

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

“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 of his partner.

Lehrer moderated 12 presidential debates, first in 1988 and his last in 2012.

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

“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,” he said to PBS station managers. “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.”

He also authored 20 novels and three memoirs.

“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting mourns the passing of public media pioneer and icon, Jim Lehrer, who spent 36 years anchoring 'PBS NewsHour,' shaping it into a program that continues to be the gold standard for journalistic excellence,” said CPB President Patricia Harrison. “Through his straight-forward reporting-style, Jim helped public broadcasting earn its reputation as the most trusted institution in America.”

“Jim set a standard of objective, dispassionate, careful journalism that inspired generations of journalists who have tried to follow his shining example,” said Patrick Butler, president and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations. “With Robin MacNeil, he made public television famous for its thoughtful, civil approach to public affairs, and that tradition continues to this day.”

"[H]e was a consummate, fair, even-handed journalist who was smart, creative and blessed with an imaginative and curious mind," said Michael Winship, Lehrer's former publicist at the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. "At first glance, Jim and Robin MacNeil might have seemed an unlikely pair; Robin the Canadian with the erudite speech and worldly experience, Jim the Kansan turned Texan with a down home style. But they clicked and were great friends, sharing a love of language and the written word..."

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.