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: There’s no connecting theme to my novels. I try to, in fact, usually not to do that. It’s whatever I want to do, I do.
Sometimes there are comics. There are several comic novels where nothing bad happens to anybody. And then there are some real tragic novels that started out to be something less, something different than they were. They ended up being something different than they were when they started.
But most of my recent novels are about people whose lives have not turned out the way they hoped they would and had to deal with it. Some of them dealt with it in kind of strange ways.
One of them recently, the guy decided just to remake himself as a former Marine. Claimed that he won a Silver Star in Vietnam for heroism. He’d never been in the military. But he got on eBay and got a little lapel pin, a Silver Star medal to wear. He was a clothing salesman in his 50s. And he remade himself. He got trim, learned how to cuss really well, did all the things that Marines did. And to be something that he wasn’t.
And I’ve written a couple of novels along that line. And I’m working on one right now, in fact, where a kid wanted to be something he just couldn’t be. And this one is about baseball and other things.
I hadn’t thought about it to this moment, but it may go back to those early days from the Depression and World War II.
And my father was a really good man. One of the really best people I’ve ever known. He was not “successful”. He had one little business. He had a little bus line in Kansas. It went bankrupt after a year. Crushed him. He never ever got over it. And he never got the big promotions and all that sort of stuff. And I think that left kind of a “Death of a Salesman” over me I think sometimes. I’ve read it many times. I’ve seen it many times.
I have a lot of friends that were contemporaries of mine. I’m now much older than some of these guys who reached their mid 50s, worked very hard to become Managing Editor, or to become the boss, or to become whatever, and they didn’t make it. And they had to finally accept the fact that they weren’t ever going to make it. And that’s crushing. That’s a really tough thing if you’ve lived your whole life toward making it. That was it! That was what you were going to do. No matter what it was going to be.
And I’m fascinated by that.
And I’m sure it’s because of my dad, and it’s because of those early days. And so my fiction is full of that kind of stuff – of people trying like hell to be successful.
Recorded: July 4, 2007.