Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1934, Jim Lehrer attended Victoria College. In 1956, he received a Bachelor's journalism degree from the University of Missouri before joining the Marine Corps, where he served three years as an infantry officer. For the following decade, Lehrer worked as a reporter in Dallas, before moving on to a local experimental news program on public television.
He came to Washington with PBS in 1972 and teamed up with Robert MacNeil in 1973 to cover the Senate Watergate hearings. In 1975, they started what became "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report" and then the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" in 1983, the first 60-minute evening news program on television.
The program became The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in 1995 when MacNeil retired. Lehrer has received numerous awards for his work, including a presidential National Humanities Medal in 1999. He also has moderated ten of the nationally televised candidate debates in the last five presidential elections.
Lehrer is the author of 17 novels, including Eureka (2007), The Phony Marine (2006), The Franklin Affair (2005), and Flying Crows (2004). He has also written two memoirs and three plays. Lehrer and his wife, Kate, have been married since 1960. They have three daughters and six grandchildren.
Jim Lehrer: As a practical matter; our editorial process begins every day at 10 o’clock with an editorial meeting. All our senior producers, senior correspondents. We talk about the news of the day. We talk about what we already have ready to go. We talk about how we might present it and what kind of guests we should have. Who we already have lined up maybe on stories we already know are going to happen that day.
And then we spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together, getting the right guests, trying to get the right mix of guests. And I do the news summary. There is a news editor who presents it to me in rough form, and I came out of print, so I am not what you’d call the terrific news reader. So I need all the help I can get. And one of the big helps I need is that I have to write my own stuff. It has to go inside.
I think I am such a writer now that I think with my fingers more than I do of my own head. Some people would agree with that.
But at any rate it has to go in. The way it gets to my head is through my fingers. I don’t really have it until I’ve written it. And so that’s the process. It goes through your head. And at 6 o’clock eastern time, we go on the air!
And the great thing about doing live television is that 6 o’clock eastern time you go on the air whether you are ready or not. There’s none of this, “Hey, I’m not ready yet!” Come back, you know, listen to some music, have a drink and come back.
Jim Lehrer: I’ve been in journalism for 40 years now, and over 30 with the News Hour. And it is the most exhilarating kind of a thing.
It’s little boy/little girl work. Let’s face it. I know everybody says, “Oh, it’s serious.” Yeah, sure it’s serious – serious issues, serious events. I’m in the serious issues, serious event business.
But as a journalist it’s like eating candy because I’m exposed to all these things that are happening. Important things, important people. Not so important people, but interesting people. All kinds.
There are no clichés to me. I’ve met every kind of person there is.
Somebody might say, “Ah, he’s just a left-handed Texas billionaire’s son,” or something. I know a left-handed Texas billionaire’s son. “Oh, he’s just a homeless kid. He’s just a kid who can’t find a job. He’s down and out. He’s been on drugs.” And I’ve interviewed every kind of person there is, I have interviewed and been exposed to. And it is a thrill.
Jim Lehrer: I write a little bit on my fiction every day. It’s just what I do. Yes I have my day job. I do that too; but I do both things every day. And I have for years.
I don’t get up in the morning and say, “Am I gonna write today?” The only thing I think about is what I am going to write, not if I’m going to write.
I think probably what’s happened to me – and it’s glorious, and I’m so lucky to be able to do this – is that by writing fiction, I am free to let my imagination go.
Recorded: July 4, 2007.