Jim Lehrer is leaving ‘PBS NewsHour’ anchor chair
After 36 years as the anchor of “NewsHour” on PBS, Jim Lehrer announced Thursday that he will step down from his post, bringing an end to the longest run of a national anchorman.
His last day in that role will be June 6, but he will continue to appear on many Friday evenings to moderate the program’s weekly news analysis segment, which also features journalists Mark Shields and David Brooks.
In an interview, Lehrer, 76, said he’d been planning his exit since 2009, when he took his name off the program (then called “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer”) and expanded his team to include anchors Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Jeffrey Brown, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner. That team will continue hosting the broadcast on a rotating basis.
“Everything that we did, I had a timeline in mind, but we had to take it each step,” said Lehrer, who has suffered a heart attack and bypass operation in recent years. When it became clear that the multi-anchor concept was working, and “NewsHour” was successfully integrating its online and on-air platforms, Lehrer said, “It seemed like a natural time to go.”
After beginning his career as a newspaperman in Texas, Lehrer launched “NewsHour” with fellow journalist Robert MacNeil in 1975, when it was called “The Robert MacNeil Report.” (One year later, the title changed to “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”) He initially served as the show’s Washington correspondent, but was soon promoted, and remained as anchor after MacNeil left in 1995 and the program was renamed “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”
His most memorable interviews include President Clinton. Lehrer was the first person to question the president after news of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky broke.
In a statement, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and chief operating officer of WETA, the public TV station in Washington, said that Lehrer would be remembered for his integrity and civility.
"[Jim] has given monumental public service to our nation, defining the highest ideals of intelligent, responsible journalism and establishing a high standard of excellence that serves as a benchmark for the industry,” she said.
In addition to “NewsHour,” Lehrer was best known for his role in the last six presidential elections. He moderated 11 of the nationally televised debates among the candidates, including the one between Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008.
As the author of 20 novels, two memoirs and three plays, Lehrer said he plans to spend the next chapter of his career writing more books. “Tension City,” a nonfiction book about his role in the presidential debates, comes out in September. He’s also working on a novel about the Kennedy assassination, which he covered during his time as a newspaper reporter.
In response to Lehrer’s departure from “NewsHour,” MacNeil said, “It is the most constructive and graceful exit strategy I have ever seen for someone holding a coveted and senior position in today’s media. It guarantees a continued place in today’s bewildering media spectrum for a program that will stay devoted to serious journalism.”
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