Jim Lehrer, the veteran anchorman and co-founder of the PBS nightly newscast NewsHour, has died. The public broadcaster confirmed via Twitter that the journalist and debate moderator passed away, but did not provide any details as to the cause of death. He was 85 years old.
Lehrer was born in Kansas and raised in Texas, where he first cultivated his career in journalism. Within the span of just a few years he had garnered experience at the The Dallas Morning News and then with The Dallas Times-Herald, covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It would ultimately become that event that would greatly impact the trajectory of his career. “What I took away and have taken away — and it still overrides everything that I have done in journalism since — what the Kennedy assassination did for me was forever keep me aware of the fragility of everything, that, on any given moment, something could happen,” Lehrer later recounted for NewsHour. “I mean, my God, if they could shoot the president.”
Both Lehrer and new anchor Robert MacNeil reported on the Watergate hearings in 1973 for PBS. Two years later Lahrer was promoted from contributor to co-anchor—a change that would evolve the Robert MacNeil Report into The MacNeil/Lahrer Report. When they relaunched the newscast in September 1983, the pair renamed the program The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, and then The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer after MacNeil departed in 1995. It would eventually become PBS NewsHour and through its numerous iterations, Lahrer’s journalistic integrity was its guiding force. He anchored the program for 36 years before stepping down in 2011.
As a debate moderator, Lehrer established himself as a go-to source for levity from 1988 to 2012. During that time he presided over 12 debates, which PBS states is more than anyone else in U.S. history. The feat earned him the title of “dean of moderators,” coined by fellow journalist Bernard Shaw. Lehrer was also a prolific writer who authored a number of novels, stage plays, screenplays, and memoirs. During his time he earned many honors, including the George Foster Peabody Award, an Emmy, and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. Lehrer is survived by his wife and fellow author, Kate; three daughters, Jamie, Lucy, and Amanda; and six grandchildren.