Jim Lehrer, the co-founder and anchor of PBS NewsHour, died Thursday, January 23, at the age of 85. Over the course of his distinguished career as a journalist, Lehrer covered such earth-shaking events as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Watergate hearings. What is now NewsHour came out of the coverage of those hearings by Lehrer and Robert MacNeil for PBS. Their gavel-to-gavel coverage of the marathon hearings in 1973, as well as late-night analysis following them, inspired an outpouring of public support and thanks.
After that exemplary coverage, the journalistic pair launched The Robert MacNeil Report in 1975. The half-hour program was renamed The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour in 1983, when it was expanded to an hour. MacNeil retired in 1995, and the program became The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Lehrer himself stepped down as full-time anchor in 2011, two years after it was renamed PBS NewsHour, but continued to appear on the program and be involved in its production.
Lehrer and MacNeil "helped lay the foundation for modern public media reporting," according to NewsHour, and Lehrer's journalistic approach was governed by nine rules that included "Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story," "Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything," and “I am not in the entertainment business.”
Lehrer conducted interviews with numerous important world figures, including one, which he considered one of his most important, in which he pressed then-President Bill Clinton about accusations regarding Clinton's sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He moderated twelve presidential debates between 1988 and 2012, more than anyone else in U.S. history. He received the National Humanities Medal, was a fellow of theAmerican Academy of Arts and Sciences, and received numerous other awards and distinctions. He was also a writer, with four plays, three memoirs, and some twenty novels to his name, one of which he discussed on Chicago Tonight in 2011.
“I’m heartbroken at the loss of someone who was central to my professional life, a mentor to me and someone whose friendship I’ve cherished for decades,” said Judy Woodruff, anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. “I’ve looked up to him as the standard for fair, probing and thoughtful journalism and I know countless others who feel the same way.”