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Jim Lehrer (1934–2020), longtime anchor of “PBS NewsHour”

Getty Images / The Washington Post / Carol Guzy

He covered events from the Kennedy assassination to the September 11 attacks and beyond

Jim Lehrer was a broadcast journalist well known for hosting “PBS NewsHour” for more than 30 years. Lehrer joined Robert MacNeil to cohost the program in 1976, when it was titled “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.” When MacNeil left in 1995, it became “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” renamed “PBS NewsHour” in 2009. In the 36 years before his 2011 retirement, Lehrer became a giant of broadcasting known for his directness. He always strove simply to report the news, feeling that opinion and analysis had no place in what he did. Lehrer moderated twelve presidential debates, more than any other moderator in U.S. history, most recently the first presidential general election debate of 2012. He was also a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and an author of plays, novels, memoirs, and screenplays, including the novel “Top Down” about the Kennedy assassination. Lehrer was honored with the National Humanities Medal and the George Foster Peabody Broadcast Award, and he was a member of the Television Hall of Fame.

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Died: January 23, 2020 (Who else died on January 23?)

Details of death: Died at home in Seattle at the age of 85.

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Major career moments: A journalist since 1959, when he joined the staff of the Dallas Morning News, Lehrer was there to report on some of the most explosive stories of the 20th and 21st centuries. An early one was the Kennedy assassination, which he covered as a reporter for the Dallas Times-Herald. Lehrer later remembered interacting with a police officer just before Kennedy’s motorcade began rolling, and he was at the Dallas police station where Lee Harvey Oswald was brought for questioning.

Moving to PBS in Washington, DC in the early ‘70s, Lehrer had a front-and-center view of the Watergate scandal, which he reported alongside MacNeil just a few years before they joined forces as a co-anchor team. Lehrer had a memorable interview with President Bill Clinton as his impeachment trial loomed, and he reported gravely as terrorists struck the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

Lehrer on why he loved PBS NewsHour: “We really are the fortunate ones in the 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. We never have to decide who we are and why we are there. That’s 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.” —from a speech to PBS station managers

What people said about him: “In the trenches of electronic journalism of the years, I met a lot of people. Few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer. He was a gentleman, and a helluva journalist. He will be missed.” —Dan Rather

“Jim Lehrer RIP. This man changed news so much for the better. So grateful to be part of Jim Lehrer’s legacy. Very sad he is no longer in the world. But, suspect Jim Lehrer would just tell us to move on and cover the story.” —NewsHour correspondent Lisa Desjardins

“Our nation has lost a champion for truth and transparency. As one of the founders of PBS NewsHour, as well as its longtime host, Jim Lehrer worked to keep America’s leaders accountable to the people. My prayers are with his wife, Kate, and their family.” —Nancy Pelosi

“Jim Lehrer, a friend and mentor to many, has died. What a life. What a journalist. A sad day but his legacy and example will carry on. I will miss him, particularly the love of country and politics he brought to everything he did.” —Robert Costa, moderator of PBS’ “Washington Week”

Full obituary: The Washington Post

Related lives:

  • Gwen Ifill (1955–2016), “PBS NewsHour” co-anchor
  • Cokie Roberts (1943–2019), legendary journalist with NPR and ABC News
  • Peter Jennings (1938–2005), “ABC World News Tonight” anchor