Veteran Journalist Jim Lehrer Dies At 85

Jan 24, 2020
Originally published on January 24, 2020 9:24 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

If you have turned on PBS anytime over the past four decades, you probably recognize this voice...

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JIM LEHRER: Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer. On the NewsHour tonight, our summary of the news.

MARTIN: Longtime PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer died yesterday at his home in Washington at the age of 85.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In 1975, he and Robert MacNeil co-founded a nightly half hour public television program that eventually expanded to become the iconic "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour." By 2011, both had retired from the program.

MARTIN: Last night, MacNeil returned to the "PBS NewsHour," as it's known now, to remember his friend and former co-anchor.

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ROBERT MACNEIL: I think he's the brightest man I ever worked with. And he had not only a penetrating intelligence but also a moral intelligence, the kind of man you trusted as I trusted him. I could tell him anything and did, things I wouldn't tell other people.

MARTIN: During his long tenure in the anchor chair, Lehrer covered some of the biggest stories of our time. In 1995, he told MORNING EDITION what he learned along the way.

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LEHRER: I finally learned that the most difficult question to ask somebody is, I'm sorry I didn't quite follow that or why do you say that or on what do you base that? Those are the kinds of questions. The only way you can answer those questions, though, is to do your homework and be relaxed enough to listen.

GREENE: Lehrer just asked the right questions as moderator of a dozen presidential debates. And he wrote novels and plays and multiple memoirs. In 1992, Terry Gross asked him how he found the time to do all of this. It was concentration, he said. And after decades covering news, Lehrer had lots of practice at that.

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LEHRER: But you can't waste a lot of time worrying if the wind is right, how do you feel? You know, I have said I could write underwater at 5 in the morning hungover, hanging by my thumbs.

MARTIN: He told Terry Gross that a lot changed for him following a heart attack in the 1980s.

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LEHRER: It isn't this thing of oh, my - looking back on my life. I looked ahead. And well, how much time I had left, whether it's five days, five months, five years, 25 years, I wanted to do these things.

MARTIN: The executive producer of the "NewsHour," Sara Just, yesterday tweeted out a list of journalism rules Jim Lehrer lived by, including I am not in the entertainment business and do nothing I cannot defend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.