Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1934, Jim Lehrer received an A.A. degree from Victoria College and a B.J. in 1956 from the University of Missouri before joining the Marine Corps. From 1959 to 1966, he was a reporter for the Dallas Morning News and then the Dallas Times-Herald. He was also a political columnist at the Times-Herald for several years and in 1968 became that paper’s city editor.
Lehrer’s newspaper career led him to public television, first in Dallas as KERA-TV’s executive director of public affairs, on-air host and editor of a nightly news program. He subsequently moved to Washington, DC, to serve as the public affairs coordinator for PBS, and was also a member of PBS’s Journalism Advisory Board and a fellow at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Lehrer went on to join the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT) as a correspondent.
It was Lehrer’s work with NPACT that led to his initial association with Robert MacNeil and, ultimately, to their long-term partnership. In 1973, they teamed up to provide NPACT’s continuous live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, broadcast on PBS. Following that Emmy-winning collaboration, Lehrer was the solo anchor for PBS coverage of the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon.
In October 1975, the half-hour Robert MacNeil Report, with Jim Lehrer as the Washington correspondent, premiered on Thirteen/WNET New York. Over the next seven years, The MacNeil/Lehrer Report (as it was renamed in 1976) won more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence. In September 1983, Lehrer and MacNeil launched their most ambitious undertaking, The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. The 1995-96 season marked the 20th year of their journalistic odyssey, as well as MacNeil’s departure and Lehrer’s stewardship of the program in its current incarnation, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.
Lehrer has been honored with numerous awards for journalism, most recently the 1999 National Humanities Medal, presented by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Also in 1999, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame with MacNeil and into The Silver Circle of the Washington, DC, Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He has won two Emmys, the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, the George Foster Peabody Broadcast Award, the William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit and the University of Missouri School of Journalism’s Medal of Honor. In 1991, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In the last four presidential elections, Lehrer has served as a moderator for nine of the nationally televised debates among the candidates. In 1998, he moderated one presidential debate; in 1992, he moderated two presidential debates; in 1996, he was selected to be the sole moderator of all three debates — two presidential and one vice presidential. In 2000, in an unprecedented show of respect and confidence, he was again selected as the sole moderator of the three presidential debates, which were conducted in different formats – podium, round-table and town hall.
Lehrer is also the author of twelve novels, two memoirs and three plays. The novels include six about a fictional lieutenant governor of Oklahoma as well as The Last Debate about journalism, White Widow about a Trailways bus driver in the 1950’s and two, including the recent Purple Dots, featuring the adventures of some retired C.I.A. agents. The plays are Chili Queen, Church Key Charlie Blue and The Will and Bart Show. The memoirs are We Were Dreamers and A Bus of My Own.
Lehrer’s latest book, The Special Prisoner, was published in May 2000. A made-for-television movie of The Last Debate aired in November 2000 on the Showtime Channel.
Lehrer and MacNeil are partners in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, a co-producer of The NewsHour and producer of other programs and series for public, commercial and cable television-several of which Lehrer has hosted. The most recent was the highly praised “Debating Our Destiny,” in which Lehrer interviewed former presidential and vice presidential candidates about their debate experiences.
Jim Lehrer and his wife, Kate, have been married since 1960. They have three daughters – Amanda, Lucy and Jamie – and five grandchildren. Kate, also a writer, is the author of three novels, Best Intentions (1987), When They Took Away the Man in the Moon (1993) and Out of Eden (1996).
Jim Lehrer’s Journalist’s Creed
A couple of years ago I was asked by the sponsor of an Aspen seminar on journalism if I had guidelines I used in my own practice of journalism and, if so, would I mind sharing them. Here is what I sent them: –Do nothing I can not defend.
–Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.
–Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and 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 ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
–And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.
Jim Lehrer and CKP Board Chair Joan Barrett in Wichita. May 2006