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Jim Lehrer
Lehrer at the 2007 Texas Book Festival
Born James Charles Lehrer
(1934-05-19)May 19, 1934
Wichita, Kansas, U.S.
Died January 23, 2020(2020-01-23) (aged 85)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Education University of Missouri (BA)
Occupation Journalist, news anchor, author
Years active 1959–2012
Notable credit(s) PBS NewsHour
The Dallas Morning News
Dallas Times Herald
Spouse(s) Kate Staples (m. 1960)
Children 3
Relatives J. B. Chapman (grandfather)

James Charles Lehrer (/ˈlɛərə/;[1] May 19, 1934 – January 23, 2020) was an American journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and playwright.[2] Lehrer was the executive editor and a news anchor for the PBS NewsHour on PBS and was known for his role as a debate moderator during U.S. presidential election campaigns, moderating twelve presidential debates between 1988 and 2012. He authored numerous fiction and non-fiction books that drew upon his experience as a newsman, along with his interests in history and politics.[3]

Early life and education

James Charles Lehrer was born on May 19, 1934, in Wichita, Kansas.[4] His mother, Lois Catherine (née Chapman), was a teacher, and his father, Harry Frederick Lehrer, was a bus station manager.[5][6] His paternal grandparents were German immigrants. His maternal grandfather was J. B. Chapman, a prominent Church of the Nazarene figure.[7][8] He attended middle school in Beaumont, Texas, and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio, where he was a sports editor for the Jefferson Declaration. He graduated with an associate degree from Victoria College, and a bachelor's degree in journalism from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in 1956.[5]

After graduating from college Lehrer joined the United States Marine Corps and served for three years as an infantry officer.[9] He attributed his service and travels with helping him to look beyond himself and feel a connection to the world that he would not have otherwise experienced.[10]


In 1959, Lehrer began his career in journalism at The Dallas Morning News in Texas. Later, he worked as a reporter for the Dallas Times Herald, where he covered the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. He was a political columnist there for several years, and in 1968 he became the city editor.[11]

Lehrer began his television career at KERA-TV in Dallas, Texas, as the executive director of Public Affairs, an on-air host, and editor of a nightly news program.[12] In 1972, he moved to PBS in Washington, D.C., to become the Public Affairs Coordinator, a member of Journalism Advisory Board, and a Fellow at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).[4] He worked as a correspondent for the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT), where he met Robert MacNeil. In 1973, they covered the Senate Watergate hearings and the revelation of the Watergate Tapes broadcast, live on PBS (This coverage of the hearings would later help lead to and be the inspiration for what would eventually become The MacNeil/Lehrer Report).[13] Lehrer covered the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry of President Richard Nixon.[13]

In October 1975, Lehrer became the Washington correspondent for The Robert MacNeil Report on Thirteen/WNET New York. Two months later on December 1, 1975, he was promoted to co-anchor, and the program was accordingly renamed The MacNeil/Lehrer Report. In September 1983, Lehrer and MacNeil relaunched their show as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, which was renamed The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, following MacNeil's departure in 1995. The program was renamed the PBS NewsHour in 2009.[3]

In order to maintain objectivity, Lehrer chose not to vote.[14]

Lehrer underwent a heart valve surgery in April 2008. On April 17, 2008, allowing Ray Suarez, Gwen Ifill, and Judy Woodruff to anchor in their stead until Lehrer's return on June 26, 2008.[15]

Lehrer stepped down as anchor of the PBS NewsHour on June 6, 2011, but continued to moderate the Friday news analysis segments and be involved with the show's production company, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.[16]

Lehrer received several awards and honors during his career in journalism, including several Emmys; the George Foster Peabody Broadcast Award; a William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit; and the University of Missouri School of Journalism's Medal of Honor. In 2004, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Journalism degree by McDaniel College.[17][18]

Presidential debate moderator

Lehrer was involved in several projects related to U.S. presidential debates, including the Debating Our Destiny documentaries in 2000 and 2008, which feature excerpts of exclusive interviews with many of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates since 1976.[19] Nicknamed "The Dean of Moderators" by journalist Bernard Shaw, Lehrer moderated twelve presidential debates between 1988 and 2012.[20] In 2016, Lehrer served on the board of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD).[21]

The last debate that Lehrer moderated was the first general election debate of the 2012 election. He originally had sworn off moderating any debates after 2008; however, the CPD persisted, and he accepted as he was interested in the new format.[22] The debate was held at the University of Denver and covered domestic policy issues. Lehrer's performance as a moderator, in which he frequently allowed the candidates to exceed the given time limits, received mixed reviews; while he received criticism for his lenient enforcement of time rules and open-ended questions, his approach also received praise for letting the candidates have some control in the debate on their own terms.[23][24]

Debates Moderated by Jim Lehrer
Date Debate








Sunday, September 25, 1988 Presidential Michael Dukakis George H. W. Bush
Sunday, October 11, 1992 Bill Clinton Ross Perot
Monday, October 19, 1992
Sunday, October 6, 1996 Bob Dole
Wednesday, October 16, 1996
Wednesday, October 9, 1996 Vice Presidential Al Gore Jack Kemp
Tuesday, October 3, 2000 Presidential George W. Bush
Wednesday, October 11, 2000
Tuesday, October 17, 2000
Thursday, September 30, 2004 John Kerry
Friday, September 26, 2008 Barack Obama John McCain
Wednesday October 3, 2012 Mitt Romney

Personal life

For six decades, Lehrer was married to Kate Lehrer, who is also a novelist. They had three daughters and six grandchildren.[3] His father was a bus driver who briefly operated a bus company. Lehrer was an avid bus enthusiast, a hobbyist, and a collector of bus memorabilia, including depot signs, driver caps, and antique toy buses.[25][26] As a college student in the 1950s, he worked as a Trailways ticket agent in Victoria, Texas. He also was a supporter of the Pacific Bus Museum in Williams, California, and the Museum of Bus Transportation in Hershey, Pennsylvania.[3]

Lehrer was a prolific writer and authored numerous novels, as well as several plays, screenplays, and three personal memoirs. His book, Top Down, is a novel based on the events surrounding the Kennedy assassination.[27] His last play, Bell, was produced by the National Geographic Society as part of their 125th anniversary celebration.[28]


Lehrer died at his home in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 2020, at age 85 from a heart attack.[5][29][30]

Honors and awards

  • Paul White Award, Radio Television Digital News Association[31] (1990)
  • Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (1990)[32]
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences member (elected in 1991)[33]
  • University of Missouri School of Journalism's Medal of Honor[4]
  • William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit[4]
  • Peabody Award[34]
  • Fred Friendly First Amendment Award[4]
  • Two Emmy Awards[4]
  • Silver Circle of the Washington D.C. chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences[4] (1999)
  • Television Hall of Fame[4] (1999)
  • National Humanities Medal (1999)[4]
  • Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism[35] (2008)


Lehrer signing copies of his book at the National Press Club Book Fair in 2011

Novels (One-Eyed Mack Series)

Novels (Charlie Henderson Series)

Novels (Stand-alone)

  • An adaptation of White Widow has been written by Luke Wilson[36][37]
  • Viva Max! (1969) writing credit with Elliott Baker[38]
  • The Last Debate (2000) writing credit with Jon Maas[39][40]


  1. "Oxford English Dictionary Entry for Jim Lehrer". Oxford Dictionaries. December 1, 2016.,_jim. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  2. Fieldstadt, Elisha (January 23, 2020). "Jim Lehrer: 'The Dean of Moderators' nightly newscast, dead at 85". NBC. "As an anchor of several iterations of the NewsHour, Jim reported the news with a clear sense of purpose and integrity, even as the world of media changed around him." 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "About Us: Jim Lehrer, Executive Editor". The PBS NewsHour. 2012. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Lauderville, Kristen D. (2008). "Lehrer, Jim (1934– )". In Kaid, Lynda Lee (in en). Encyclopedia of Political Communication. SAGE. pp. 401. ISBN 978-1-4129-1799-5. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 McFadden, Robert D. (January 23, 2020). "Jim Lehrer, Longtime PBS News Anchor, Is Dead at 85" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  6. (in en) Current Biography Yearbook. 48. H. W. Wilson Company. 1988. pp. 350. OCLC 2446272. 
  7. Stewart, David (April 6, 1998). "Lehrer takes his own advice: make sure it matters to you". 
  8. Gilmore, Joan (October 15, 1999). "SNU Celebration Features Jim Lehrer". The Journal Record. 
  9. Jim Lehrer (November 10, 2006). "Jim Lehrer Reflects on Marines at Museum Dedication". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved May 3, 2011. 
  10. Jim Lehrer (June 8, 2008). "Commencement speech of Jim Lehrer". Harvard University. Retrieved September 28, 2008. [dead link]
  11. "Jim Lehrer – American Journalist and Author". Encyclopædia Britannica. August 30, 2011. Retrieved December 9, 2016. 
  12. Jones, Gabrielle. "Jim Lehrer, PBS NewsHour Anchor Who Got His TV Start At KERA, Dead At 85" (in en). 
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Covering Watergate: 40 Years Later With MacNeil And Lehrer". PBS NewsHour. May 16, 2013. 
  14. "Jim Lehrer: Master of moderation". Politico. September 29, 2012. Retrieved January 29, 2020. 
  15. The Associated Press (April 25, 2008). "NewsHour Anchor Jim Lehrer Has Heart Surgery". The International Herald Tribune. Retrieved September 26, 2008. 
  16. Farhi, Paul (May 12, 2011). "Jim Lehrer to step down from daily broadcast at 'NewsHour'". Retrieved May 12, 2011. 
  17. "Home | McDaniel". 
  18. The Baltimore Sun – "McDaniel's Commencement is Saturday; Jim and Kate Lehrer to Get Honorary Degrees", May 16, 2004.
  19. "Jim Lehrer Hosts Debating our Destiny". MacNeil/Lehrer Productions in association with the Commission on Presidential Debates and WETA. December 31, 2008. Retrieved December 1, 2016. 
  20. "Jim Lehrer: 'The Dean of Moderators'". NBC News. September 29, 2004. Retrieved September 26, 2008. 
  21. Guthrie, Marisa (September 26, 2016). "Jim Lehrer Offers Advice to Debate Moderators: It's Not About You (Q&A)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June 16, 2019. 
  22. Stelter, Brian; Shear, Michael D. (October 4, 2012). "Criticism Greets List of Debate Moderators". The New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  23. Bauder, David (October 4, 2012). "Tough Reviews for Jim Lehrer as Debate Moderator". San Francisco Chronicle, California. Hearst Communications Inc.. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  24. "Jim Lehrer's Debate Performance Criticized, Defended, and Analyzed". The Washington Post. October 4, 2012. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  25. Lehrer, Jim – "A Bus of My Own", New York: Putnam – 1992. ISBN 0-399-13765-3.
  26. Hari Sreenivasan – "Jim Lehrer's 'Super' Office Tour", On the Road, PBS, April 16, 2010.[1]
  27. Lehrer, Jim – "Top Down: A Novel of the Kennedy Assassination", New York: Random House, 2013. ISBN 978-1-4000-6916-3.
  28. Sheir, Rebecca (September 6, 2013). "National Geographic Society Brings 'Bell' To Life" (in en). 
  29. Davenport, Anne Azzi; Brown, Jeffrey (January 23, 2020). "Remembering Jim Lehrer". PBS. Retrieved January 23, 2020. 
  30. Schudel, Matt (January 23, 2020). "Jim Lehrer, understated PBS news anchor and presidential debate moderator, dies at 85". 
  31. "Paul White Award". Radio Television Digital News Association. Retrieved May 27, 2014. 
  32. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement. 
  33. "James C. Lehrer, member profile". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 
  34. Peabody Awards won by Jim Lehrer , accessed September 2014.
  35. Arizona State University. "Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication". Retrieved November 23, 2016. 
  36. Simon, Brent (August 13, 2008). "Luke Wilson Wants to Direct... Again". Shared Darkness. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  37. Truitt, Brian (September 8, 2010). "Luke Wilson shoots for the top in 'Middle Men'". Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  38. Canby, Vincent (January 23, 1970). "Screen: 'Viva Max' and the History of the Alamo: Peter Ustinov Stars in Music Hall Comedy Jerry Paris Is Director of 24-Hour Siege". The New York Times. 
  39. Leonard, John (November 6, 2000). "Camp Pain" (in en-us). 
  40. Bernstein, Paula (June 20, 2000). "'Debate' stirs Showtime" (in en). 
  41. 41.0 41.1 41.2 "PBS' Jim Lehrer Serves His Chili Queen in L.A. Feb. 20". Playbill. February 20, 1998. 
  42. Laura Bennett (September 11, 2013). "An Anchor Tells Stories Onstage, but Off Camera". 

Further reading

  • Art at Our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists featuring Jim Lehrer. Edited by Nan Cuba and Riley Robinson (Trinity University Press, 2008).

External links

Media offices
Preceded by
Position created
NewsHour/PBS NewsHour anchor
Served alongside: Robert MacNeil (1975–1995)
Succeeded by
Gwen Ifill
Judy Woodruff

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