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: I have the best job in journalism. Not just the best job in television journalism; the best job in journalism. And the way I define “best” is that I am free to practice the kind of journalism I want to practice, and so are my colleagues at the NewsHour. We have no people looking over our shoulders – no PBS people, no underwriter people, no any kind of people. Our mistakes are our own. If we don’t wanna do a story on Paris Hilton, we don’t do a story on Paris Hilton. If we don’t want to do a story on the O.J. Simpson trial, we don’t do a story on the O.J. Simpson trial. We wanna devote 20 minutes to global warming and Africa, we do 20 minutes on global warming and Africa. That may not be a good idea. Maybe we should have done this or whatever; but we practice . . . Every day we sit . . . We are . . . We don’t have to worry about the outside . . . You know journalism is . . . In the best circumstances, you’re gonna . . . you’re gonna make mistakes because news happens . . . It doesn’t happen in neat and tidy packages. Sometimes you go on the air 6 o’clock eastern time but the story’s not finished. But you still have to go with what you’ve got. And you know you can correct it the next day or whatever. And anytime you introduce an outside influence, you increase . . . we increase the chances you’re gonna be wrong. We have no outside influences. Now my job as the Executive Editor of the program is that I am the . . . We . . . we call it internally – facetiously, but not quite so facetiously – we have a . . . have a Quaker monarchy. In other words we have a consensus system where we work . . . all of us work together, talk together about what we think the news of the day is, how we should present it, all that sort of stuff. But then in the final . . . when we get where we can’t agree, then the monarchy takes over, and I’m the monarch! And I asked some young man who was doing a story for some magazine about all of the TV journalists who are from Texas. And he was doing a piece, “Why is this?” And you know Rather was still there. _______, of course, was still there. And anyhow this kid was taking my picture, and he said, “Mr. Lehrer, I’ve taken pictures of all these guys now and they seemed all uptight. You seem so relaxed. What’s the difference?” And I said, “Well the difference is I am the boss.” And in a journalism organization, if you’re not the boss, if you don’t make any of these final decisions, you waste all your energy arm wrestling.