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: What is your counsel?
Jim Lehrer: Well there’s only one answer, and that is you have to get involved. And there are all kinds of ways you get involved.
If you take anybody in American; that there’s a day, and then there’s a week, then it’ll never happen. But every American must – in my opinion – feel, “Okay, we are now going to elect a new President. We are now going to deal with how we’re going to exercise our military power.” We this, we this, we that, we, we, we, we, we!
There’s all kinds of studies. Sociologists talk all the time about; we’re in high society. I did this. It’s only me, me, me, me and me. And there is no we, we, we.
I think, to touch on something I’ve said before, I think there’s a big “we” in all of us. It has to be utilized. It’s a goldmine waiting out there for us to be mined and used.
And part of the process, of course, is to be informed and to work at it. Find out what the issues really are. It’s all there. If somebody says to me, “Oh well, I don’t even know what’s going on about it. I mean nobody ever; the media doesn’t . . .”
And I said, “What is it the media hasn’t told you?”
“Well they haven’t told me about it.” And he tells me everything about this particular story.
And I say, “Well if the media didn’t tell you, how did you find out about it?”
“Oh well, actually I, uh, heard about it on NPR.”
So I say, “Oh! I guess the media did tell you.”
But at any rate, my point is that the thing that leads to activism in anything – whether it’s political activism or any kind of activism – is knowledge, is information. If somebody says to you; you live in a neighborhood and somebody comes knocks on your door and says, “We’re going to build a 7Eleven store right next to your house,” and you’ve never been active about anything in your life, suddenly you’re an activist. You don’t want to keep that 7Eleven store next to your house.
But you can keep moving that back and back. You go to the state capital and the state government. They want to pave all the pastures north of Goodland, Kansas or something like that. “Oh my gosh! Hey! I’m an activist.”
But the information--you have to find out things first. You have to care enough. And somebody has to tell you about it. And out of that knowledge/information comes concern, and comes action, and comes resolution and togetherness.
Recorded: July 4, 2007.