Lets be honest. Jim Lehrer is a national icon. For those who want real news and analysis each weeknight there is only one place to turn, and that is to PBS. Though Lehrer has had some health issues many of us know when it comes to serious news nothing is superior to “NewsHour” for the place to find depth and nuance. In a chaotic world that is essential. Depth over the headlines is often missing from other news broadcasts. So it is important that however the long-lived, and long-loved “NewsHour” changes it not deviate away from the foundation that makes it one of the best programs on PBS.
F or the first time since Gerald Ford was president, Jim Lehrer will not have his name on next week’s PBS newscast.
He is giving up television’s biggest perk, making way for a dual-anchor format with a rotating set of correspondents that will change the look and feel of one of the capital’s most enduring journalistic institutions.
“It’s a little strange,” Lehrer admits in his Shirlington office, wearing a brown “Metro Transit” cardigan in an office festooned with bus depot signs. “Not only am I at ease with it, this was not something forced on me. This grew out of my own thinking. . . . We’ve been a team operation for a long time. What it does is validate the obvious.”
Having been sidelined by a heart valve operation last year, the 75-year-old anchor knows there are whispers that this is an interim step toward his retirement. As Lehrer shares the stage with Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff and Jeffrey Brown, the renamed “PBS NewsHour” will no longer be synonymous with the bus driver’s son from Wichita.
“I am still going to be on the program,” he says. “I am still the executive editor of the program. I want this program to go on and on.” Asked whether he will take some evenings off, Lehrer hedges: “We’re going to play it by ear.”
His face is more heavily creased now, his gait slightly slowed, but his passion for news seems undiminished. At the same time, the 20th-century icon has come to recognize that he and his venerable program are in danger of being eclipsed by a fast-changing world.