Jim Lehrer, the renowned journalist and news anchor who presented the PBS NewsHour for 36 years, has died. He was 85.
Lehrer died peacefully in his sleep at his Washington, D.C. home on Thursday, PBS announced. A cause of death has not yet been disclosed. He is survived by Kate, his wife of six decades, three daughters, and six grandchildren.
“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,” current NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff said. “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.”
Jim Lehrer was a giant in journalism. His tenacity and dedication to simply delivering the news remain the core of our work at the PBS NewsHour.— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) January 23, 2020
Here’s @JudyWoodruff delivering the news of Jim’s passing today. pic.twitter.com/dSXj5tsaiD
Lehrer began his career as a Dallas newspaperman, where he covered the Kennedy assassination for the Dallas Times-Herald, before relocating to Washington to join PBS in the 1970s. He rose to prominence through his coverage of the Watergate Senate hearings with his longtime associate and friend Robert MacNeil. The pair went on to work together in public television news for two decades, beginning with The Robert MacNeil Report (shortly to become The MacNeil/Lehrer Report when Lehrer became co-anchor), which would cover a single news story in depth on each episode.
MacNeil and Lehrer co-created the program that would become PBS NewsHour in 1983, with an eye on competing with the broadcast networks’ nightly news shows. MacNeil retired in 1995, leaving Lehrer the sole anchor until his own retirement in 2011. The pair interviewed such notable historical figures as Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, Fidel Castro, and most American presidential candidates from 1976 onward.
Lehrer was also known to viewers nationwide as a moderator of presidential debates, beginning in 1988. He ultimately moderated 12 debates — more than anyone else in American history — including every presidential debate in 1996 and 2000. (Chris Parnell memorably played Lehrer in the 2000 Saturday Night Live debate sketch that birthed the word “strategery.”)
Widely respected for his in-depth reporting and balanced presentation of controversial issues, Lehrer maintained a strong credo of journalistic integrity. Among his oft-repeated “rules”: “Do nothing I cannot defend,” “Assume the same about all people on whom I report,” and “I am not in the entertainment business.”
Lehrer was also a prolific writer, authoring 20 novels, three memoirs, and several plays, spanning genres from murder mysteries to thrillers to farces. He received numerous awards and honorary degrees throughout his career, including multiple Emmys. Before becoming a journalist, he served in the Marine Corps for three years, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother.
Many fellow journalists paid tribute to Lehrer on social media. “In the trenches of electronic journalism over the decades, I met a lot of people. Few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer,” longtime CBS anchor Dan Rather wrote on Twitter. “He was a gentlemen, and a helluva journalist. He will be missed.”
Several also recalled his affinity for buses; he was known at PBS for collecting intercity bus memorabilia, a mark of his father Henry’s career as a bus station manager. “I did a piece for CNN in 1983 about a stunt driver who jumped and crashed old school buses,” ESPN’s Keith Olbermann tweeted. “Phone rings. ‘Is this Keith? My name is Jim Lehrer…’ Asked for a VHS copy of the story. A week later it’s him calling again ‘can’t thank you enough!'”
You can read more tributes to Lehrer below.
In the trenches of electronic journalism over the decades, I met a lot of people. Few approached their work with more equanimity and integrity than Jim Lehrer. He was a gentlemen, and a helluva journalist. He will be missed.— Dan Rather (@DanRather) January 23, 2020
Loved, of all things, buses. I did a piece for CNN in 1983 about a stunt driver who jumped and crashed old school buses. Phone rings. “Is this Keith? My name is Jim Lehrer...” Asked for a VHS copy of the story. A week later it’s him calling again “can’t thank you enough!”— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) January 23, 2020
Jim Lehrer was a legendary journalist and anchor. May he rest in peace.❤️ https://t.co/9ddgNlPkEG— Katie Couric (@katiecouric) January 23, 2020
A NewsHour employee once told me that they had been struggling with getting the very old-school Jim Lehrer to sign up for Facebook. The solution? A one-on-one dinner, in which Zuckerberg pulled out a laptop and signed him up right then and there.— ryan teague beckwith (@ryanbeckwith) January 23, 2020
I was just a little ol' desk assistant at the NewsHour years ago, but it was a privilege to see the standards Jim Lehrer set from the top. Plus, his office was the most fantastic shrine to buses https://t.co/nonDyYVOUW https://t.co/FaM3fIaCZz— Melanie Mason (@melmason) January 23, 2020
Just devastating news about Jim Lehrer passing. Jim was a patriot in every sense of the word. I sat with him at a dinner just before Christmas and he was so full of life, as compassionate as he was wise. He will be deeply missed. @NewsHour https://t.co/DZHPg1YadI— Philip Rucker (@PhilipRucker) January 23, 2020