After 20 years of putting presidential candidates on the spot,
celebrated broadcast journalist Jim C. Lehrer will command the
spotlight today when he reports to graduates of the Class of 2006.
is the current anchor of the long-running “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on
the PBS network, a role that is underscored by nearly half a century of
hard-hitting political reporting.
A ‘JUMP START’
in 1934 during the Dust Bowl, Lehrer was raised in the Midwest, and by
age 18, he had set his sights on being a professional writer.
receiving a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of
Missouri-Columbia in 1956, Lehrer enlisted in a three-year stint in the
U.S. Marine Corps. Upon returning, he began his professional career
working for The Dallas Morning News, and he later joined the staff of
The Dallas Times-Herald. At 34, Lehrer became the paper’s city editor.
decision to be a journalist was a decision to be a writer,” said
Lehrer, who has also penned several novels, short stories, and plays.
He added that working as a daily reporter was a “jump start”—an
experience that allowed him to interact with different people, glean
material for his story plots, and “always keep moving.”
Times-Herald reporter on the federal-law beat, Lehrer covered former
president John F. Kennedy’s 1963 campaign tour in Dallas, Texas—an
assignment that placed him just miles away from Kennedy’s assassination
that same day. Lehrer would later author the formerly anonymous tribute
engraved on a memorial erected at the site of the assassination.
the early 1970s, Lehrer moved his family to Washington D.C., where he
became a public affairs coordinator for PBS. He called the move a
“natural transition,” adding that he “was already politically aware and
up with journalist Robert B.W. MacNeil to cover the U.S. Senate
Watergate hearings in 1973. The duo anchored the hearings live on PBS
for 47 days and subsequently scored an Emmy Award.
Watergate coverage resulted in an enduring professional relationship
between the two that blossomed during their 20-year collaboration on
“The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.”
MacNeil, who designed and ran
the show with Lehrer, said his colleague harbored the “kind of
intelligence that instantly goes to the heart of any issue, whether it
is some personal quandary...or an issue of a professional nature.”
“He has an instantly self-adjusting moral compass and understands issues very rapidly,” MacNeil added.
Following MacNeil’s retirement in 1996, the show adopted its current title.
have the fortunate situation where I’m allowed five nights a week to
practice the kind of journalism I want to practice,” Lehrer said. “I am
not answerable to anyone, and my mistakes are my own.”
is also a household name come election time, having moderated 10 of the
nationally televised debates in the past five presidential elections.
described moderating as a “mind-searing” yet “exhilarating” experience
that involves great discretion, adding that “I have scars on my psyche
I can show you.”
“If you mess it up, you can, in fact,
influence who wins the election,” Lehrer said. “As long as people
aren’t talking about me when [the debate] is over with, it’s a good
THE GOLDEN EGG
As a celebrated writer, Lehrer
has published 15 books, three plays, and two memoirs. He said that he
uses fiction to air out his views and satirize aspects of “bad conduct
among us all.”
MacNeil said that Lehrer was “extremely
creative, with more ideas than any of us.” He likened his former
co-worker to a hen, joking that “if you reach under Jim Lehrer, there’s
a warm novel that’s just been laid.”
His 16th book “The Phony Marine” will be published later this year, and another novel is in the works for next spring.
was honored with the National Humanities Medal in 1999 and has been
awarded with various honors in journalism. He and his wife Kate have
three daughters and six grandchildren. He will be giving today’s
Commencement address and receiving an honorary degree from the
—Staff writer Ying Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org