Recalling The Reasons We Loved Jim Lehrer

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Jim Lehrer, the retired PBS anchorman who for 36 years gave public television viewers a substantive alternative to network evening news programs with in-depth reporting, interviews, and analysis of world and national affairs has died.  He was 85.  And as I have stated before on this blog, he is a national treasure.

When I was a teenager dinner would be over in our Hancock home, the evening news and the local news would have come to an end.   It would be 6:30 P.M.  Time to change the channel (by walking to the set and manually turning the dial) to Wisconsin Public Television for the half-hour MacNeil/Lehrer Report.  The program devoted itself to one news story each night.  It might be the reason for a major jet crash or diving into the religious turmoil in the Middle East.  The show was informative and so well done with insight and professionalism.  And I learned so much.  It piqued my interest to want to know even more.

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Over the years this blog has mentioned Lehrer on many occasions.  Instead of writing new comments about the man I will let what was posted over time be my way of honoring this reporter which meant so much to so many in our country.

From September 2008.

It is also important to note that the moderator last night, Jim Lehrer, was superb!  He is a national treasure, and PBS can be proud again of sending one of their best to handle the first presidential debate

From October 2012.

There are many respected journalists who could moderate the presidential debates, but few possess the heft and gravitas of Jim Lehrer.  As such, it is appropriate that Lehrer be the moderator of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  It can be easily argued that the first debate is always the most important one.

For decades Lehrer has proven to be media savvy, intellectually curious, and objective about the issues and politicians he interacts with.  There are few faces in broadcast journalism that carry as much credibility as Lehrer does.

From October 2012

I have been watching Jim Lehrer on PBS from the time I was in high school, when the program that is now the NewsHour was only 30-minutes, and was co-anchored with Robert MacNeil.  I can say with all honesty I absolutely love Jim Lehrer, and have the utmost respect for his journalistic capabilities and insight.

I understand many wish some of those things I find so remarkable about Lehrer would have been more on display during the debate.

I would argue for the most part they were.

Many pundits had felt Leherer would demand specifics, and make the debate as informative as possible.  But if one looks at the topics covered, and the amount of facts and figures thrown out from each candidate it is hard to argue that the debate was not substantive.

Many feel the best debate is where the moderator is more a potted plant on the stage, and not a main player.  I am sure Lehrer was intending to be more demanding in getting more topics covered, and more specifics presented for the viewers.

But with the abrasive way Romney ran over the rules and the moderator it is hard to fault Lehrer to the extent many are doing this morning.

Placing blame this morning on Jim Lehrer is not fair.  He is not the person who was supposed to take the fight to Mitt Romney.

In other words, Lehrer was always a professional newsman and reporter.  He summed up his views about his profession in a way that makes us all know there was a solid hand on the steering wheel when he was in the anchor chair.

I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity,” Mr. Lehrer told The American Journalism Review in 2001. “News is information that’s required in a democratic society, and Thomas Jefferson said a democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry. That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth.

Godspeed to one of our nation’s best reporters.

What Is Jim Lehrer Up To These Days?

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When I was a teenager I watched the MacNeil/Lehrer Report on PBS.  On my local station it aired at 6:30 P.M, and it was unlike any other news program I had seen.  There was one topic covered, and it was dissected from all sides for 30 minutes.  I can still recall the program dealing with the findings of an airline crash that examined a long bolt and the ways it had not worked.  There was more information to be had in those half-hours than anywhere else on TV.    NewsHour on PBS still can lay claim to that same end result.

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Jim Lehrer is no longer the news interviewer that we all knew him to be as we grew up.  Instead the passion that Lehrer has for living life allows him to expand with the talents he has employed for a long time when not in front of a camera.

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Mr. Lehrer’s career in television news has made him famous. But far less well known is that he has always loved writing for the theater, and that he is the author of four plays. (He also has 21 novels to his name.) His first play in two decades opens at the National Geographic Society here on Thursday: “Bell,” a one-man show about Alexander Graham Bell.       

In the society’s Grosvenor Theater, Mr. Lehrer, 79, had the same patient air he brought to “PBS NewsHour” and the 12 presidential debates he moderated: the quiet civility, the eagerness to listen.       

“Jim has a passion for complete ideas,” said Jeremy Skidmore, the director of “Bell.” “ ‘NewsHour’ was unique in that they didn’t want to do interviews that were sound bites. And as a playwright, Jim wants to sit with an entire section of Bell’s life before he moves on.”       

Rick Foucheux, who plays Bell, once aspired to be a news anchor himself. “When I watch Jim, I see the reason he went that direction and I didn’t,” he added. “He’s got that natural curiosity to figure out the way the world works.”

I’ve always said I’d like to be known as the novelist or the playwright who also did television news.” he said. “I’m very proud of what I’ve done. But let’s face it: What I’m doing now is more creative. And people don’t know anything about it.”       

Growing up in Wichita, Kan., Mr. Lehrer decided he wanted to write fiction. In college, he studied playwriting, but after a short stint in the Marines, he became a journalist. Then in 1983, after watching the Redskins, he had a heart attack. His doctor advised him to make two lists: things he most enjoyed, and tasks that ate up his energy and time.       

So Mr. Lehrer sat down with a notepad. He hated flying between Washington and New York. He was done with business lunches. But he knew what he loved: his family, and writing fiction. Finally, he thought, he’d like to try his hand at a play. The first script he finished was “Chili Queen” in 1986, about a small-town chili parlor. Then came “Church Key Charlie Blue” in 1988 and “The Will and Bart Show” in 1992.       

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Lehrer relaxed on the sofa in his sunny living room. Along one wall, leather-bound copies of his plays — a gift from his wife — sat alongside an Arthur Miller anthology. Besides a new novel about the Kennedy assassination, “Top Down,” coming out next month, he is tinkering with another play — this one about the media. But he knows one thing for sure: He is done with TV.       

“I worried at first: Is he going to be happy being off the air?” said his wife, next to him. “And he’s just been delightfully happy.”       

Mr. Lehrer nodded, grinning. “I’ve had no withdrawal at all.”

Mitt Romney’s Abrasive Attitude Towards Jim Lehrer Makes GOP Candidate A Small Man

I am not one of the crowd that is taking Jim Lehrer to the woodshed this morning.

In fact, I have a totally different perspective as I outlined this morning on my blog.

When campaigns set up the rules they agree to abide by when it comes to the debates, and then pretend those rules do not exist it can only be seen as a small moment for a candidate.

Such was the case of Mitt Romney.

I think Mitt’s father would not be amused or understanding of the tone taken last night against the debate moderator.

 

Jim Lehrer Did Not Fail As Moderator, President Obama Did Not Debate As Energetically As Needed

This morning the reviews are coming in from all sources about the performance of President Obama during the presidential debate.  None are the type Democrats want to read.

But equally scathing are the reviews about the moderator, Jim Lehrer.  Many are expressing dismay with his performance during last night’s presidential debate.  Before I get to the thrust of this post there needs to be some background.

I have been watching Jim Lehrer on PBS from the time I was in high school, when the program that is now the NewsHour was only 30-minutes, and was co-anchored with Robert MacNeil.  I can say with all honesty I absolutely love Jim Lehrer, and have the utmost respect for his journalistic capabilities and insight.

I understand many wish some of those things I find so remarkable about Lehrer would have been more on display during the debate.

I would argue for the most part they were.

Many pundits had felt Leherer would demand specifics, and make the debate as informative as possible.  But if one looks at the topics covered, and the amount of facts and figures thrown out from each candidate it is hard to argue that the debate was not substantive.

One can always argue–and I d0–about some of the facts thrown out by Mitt Romney–but that is the nature of any debate.

Many feel the best debate is where the moderator is more a potted plant on the stage, and not a main player.  I am sure Lehrer was intending to be more demanding in getting more topics covered, and more specifics presented for the viewers.

But with the abrasive way Romney ran over the rules and the moderator it is hard to fault Lehrer to the extent many are doing this morning.

The focus of any angst over the debate must be placed at the feet of the two candidates on the stage.

President Obama is someone I am truly impressed with.  I find his intellect refreshing, and his ability to reflect and analyze complicated matters one of his strongest assets.  While he was not my first choice in the 2008 Democratic primaries–nor was Hillary Clinton—Obama won me over with his smarts.  Pure and simple.

I wanted that man who wowed a nation in 2008 to step out on the debating stage last night, and push the facts.  I understand that a national campaign of this type is draining, and that there is no way for me to know the extent that the job he has wears and tugs at every ounce of his energy every day.

Yet the debate was the moment where Mitt Romney needed to be put into  a corner that he could never recover from.  The twisted ideas and flawed logic that Romney has touted for months needed to be contained once and for all.

The person who could have done that job last night was President Obama.

Placing blame this morning on Jim Lehrer is not fair.  He is not the person who was supposed to take the fight to Mitt Romney.

Jim Lehrer Is Perfect Journalist To Moderate First Presidential Debate

There are many respected journalists who could moderate the presidential debates, but few possess the heft and gravitas of Jim Lehrer.  As such, it is appropriate that Lehrer be the moderator of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  It can be easily argued that the first debate is always the most important one.

For decades Lehrer has proven to be media savvy, intellectually curious, and objective about the issues and politicians he interacts with.  There are few faces in broadcast journalism that carry as much credibility as Lehrer does.

Jim Lehrer wrote about debates and his past roles as moderator in  the 2012 paperback update to his memoir, “Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates” (writing before he had been selected for tonight): “I strongly recommend that it be standard practice to advise debate hall audiences in advance that they are expected to remain absolutely silent during a debate. They are invited guests, not participants. The moderator should remind the would-be cheerleaders and boobirds of the rules and enforce them when necessary. That has been the long-established practice in the fall general election debates. … There have been thirty-five nationally television presidential and vice presidential debates, counting [the] first one in 1960 [Kennedy-Nixon] and the last four in 2008.

“All the moderators have been broadcast journalists except one – Chicago Sun-Times editor James Hoge in 1976. There have been several repeaters: Howard K. Smith of CBS and ABC, Edwin Newman of NBC, Barbara Walters of ABC, Bernard Shaw of CNN, Bob Schieffer of CBS, my PBS colleague Gwen Ifill, and I account for twenty-one [now 22] of the thirty-five [now 36] moderating assignments. … The first … was for a 1988 debate between Vice President George H.W. Bush and Governor Michael Dukakis in Winston-Salem.”

Jim Lehrer Announces Plans For First Presidential Debate

The preparation of the questions are surely already underway by Jim Lehrer.  He is a solid representative of the news profession, and always does a superb job in the role of moderator.

President Barack  Obama and Republican challenger Mitt  Romney are expected to spend half their first debate talking about the U.S.  economy, the moderator said.

The second half of the 90-minute debate Oct. 3 is expected to focus on  “healthcare, the role of government, and governing,” Jim Lehrer, executive editor and  former anchor of the “PBS NewsHour,” said in a statement released through the  Commission on Presidential Debates.

The topics could change “because of news developments,” Lehrer said.

The debate, at the University of Denver’s 7,200-seat Magness Arena, is to be  divided into six 15-minute segments and was agreed to focus on domestic  policy.

 

 

Bob Schieffer Will Moderate A Presidential Debate This Year!

Now that the main players are selected for the top two major political parties in the nation all that remains to be named are the moderators for this year’s debates.  This is going to be fun.  Lets hope it can be informative too.  That these are not real debates is always troubling, but one has to play with what one has available.

I am in love with Candy Crowley, and James has attempted to get me a signed photo of my favorite CNN reporter.   Not only does she moderate a debate, but Bob Schieffer–an all-time favorite reporter during my lifetime–is also given the task of doing the same!  I so very much admire and respect Jim Lehrer and his work on PBS that dates back to the pairing of MacNeil/Lehrer when they were no more than a 30-minute program. 

I love politics on the average run-of-the-mill day—but this news today makes me ecstatic!

The Commission on Presidential Debates has decided on the moderators for this year’s debates, sources confirm to POLITICO.

PBS’s Jim Lehrer will host the first presidential debate on October 3 in Denver, Colo. CNN’s Candy Crowley will host the second, town-hall debate on October 16 in Hempstead, N.Y. CBS’s Bob Schieffer will host the third debate on October 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

ABC’s Martha Raddatz will host the vice presidential debate on October 11 in Danville, Ky.

Jim Lehrer National Icon, “NewsHour” Serious News

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.