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.
Question: How has America changed in your lifetime?
Jim Lehrer: The Depression touched everybody. World War II touched everybody. These calamities that I’m talking about do not touch everybody automatically, just by their very nature. What I’m suggesting is – the variable here is – that the country, the leaders of our country – the leaders being the population – must accept and be encouraged to accept the fact that we are all touched by calamities.
We didn’t have to be in the Depression, or be in World War II to understand that this was our calamity; that Iraq was our calamity. Darfur is our calamity. When there is a calamity, we have a stake in it. And we have a responsibility.
The whole society, every element – family, school, church, whatever, as well as the political system; primarily the political system – has to be built on that. And the people who are running for office; Presidents of the United States; candidates for President of the United States, in my opinion, every one of them – I don’t care if you’re a left-winger, or a right-winger, or a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent – should tell the people the very worst and say, “Okay. I can fix this. But I can’t do it alone. Here’s what you can do.” And ask people to help and be very specific about it. And sometimes you may have to pay more taxes. “Oooooooo! Well okay. Alright.” Sometimes you may have to do this.
It’s got to be a culture.
The politicians argue and debate about how they’re going to resolve these things, and how everybody is going to be affected about it and what they can all do about it. Rather than; right now politicians tend to talk in terms of; they want to make everything so simple and so easy. None of this is simple and easy. And to act like we can go to war and only touch a few people in the volunteer military and their families. That’s what happened. And now it’s not working. And it’s beginning to touch more and more people. And the more and more people get touched, the more and more questions get asked, and the more and more everything becomes more and more difficult.
Recorded: July 4, 2007.