In November 2008, NewsHour's Executive Editor and Anchor Jim Lehrer became the first recipient of the prestigious Gaylord Prize for journalism excellence, presented by the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College. While Lehrer was in Oklahoma, OETA's Dick Pryor visited with him about Lehrer's Oklahoma connections, the 2008 presidential campaign, the importance of public broadcasting and the future of journalism.
With a journalism career spanning five decades, Jim Lehrer has become one of the most recognizable and most trusted journalists in America. The program maintains an unrivaled standard of excellence and fairness, and Lehrer has been chosen to moderate presidential and vice-presidential debates for the past six elections.
Born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1934, Jim Lehrer received an A.A. degree from Victoria College and a B.J. in 1956 from the University of Missouri before joining the Marine Corps. From 1959 to 1966, he was a reporter for The Dallas Morning News and then the Dallas Times-Herald. He was also a political columnist at the Times-Herald for several years and in 1968 became the city editor.Lehrer's newspaper career led him to public television, first in Dallas, as KERA-TV's executive director of public affairs, on-air host and editor of a nightly news program. He subsequently moved to Washington, DC, to serve as the public affairs coordinator for PBS, and was also a member of PBS's Journalism Advisory Board and a fellow at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Lehrer went on to join the National Public Affairs Center for Television (NPACT) as a correspondent.
It was Lehrer's work with NPACT that led to his initial association with Robert MacNeil and, ultimately, to their long-term partnership. In 1973, they teamed up to provide NPACT's continuous live coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, broadcast on PBS. Following that Emmy-winning collaboration, Lehrer was the solo anchor for PBS coverage of the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry of Richard Nixon.
In October 1975, the half-hour "Robert MacNeil Report," with Jim Lehrer as the Washington correspondent, premiered on Thirteen/WNET New York. Over the next seven years, "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report" (as it was renamed in 1976) won more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence. In September 1983, Lehrer and MacNeil launched their most ambitious undertaking, "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour." The 1995-96 season marked the 20th year of their journalistic odyssey, as well as MacNeil's departure and Lehrer's stewardship of the program as "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." In 2009, the program title changed to "PBS NEWSHOUR" to reflect the program's expanded role as the hub of news and public affairs programming on PBS both online and on air.
Lehrer has been honored with numerous awards for journalism, including the 1999 National Humanities Medal, presented by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Also in 1999, Lehrer was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame with MacNeil and into The Silver Circle of the Washington, DC, Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He has won two Emmys, the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, the George Foster Peabody Broadcast Award, the William Allen White Foundation Award for Journalistic Merit and the University of Missouri School of Journalism's Medal of Honor. In 1991, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In the last six presidential elections, Lehrer has served as a moderator for eleven of the nationally televised debates among the candidates. In 1988, he moderated one presidential debate; in 1992, he moderated two presidential debates; in 1996, he was selected to be the sole moderator of all three debates -- two presidential and one vice presidential. In 2000, in an unprecedented show of respect and confidence, he was again selected as the sole moderator of the three presidential debates, which were conducted in different formats - podium, round-table and town hall. In 2004, he was selected to be moderator of the first presidential debate in Coral Gables, Florida. In 2008, he was selected to be moderator of the first presidential debate in Oxford, Mississippi.
Lehrer is the author of 20 novels, two memoirs and three plays. His latest novel, "Super," is a story of celebrity and murder aboard the Sante Fe's railroad's famous Super Chief, known as "The Train of the Stars" during Hollywood's heyday. "Super" was published by Random House in April 2010 "Oh Johnny," published in April 2009, is a portrait of a young man's coming of age during World War II. "Mack to the Rescue," published in April 2008 is the 7th in his successful series of novels featuring a fictional lieutenant governor of Oklahoma. "Eureka," published in October 2007 is an endearing portrait of American middle age. "The Phony Marine," published in November 2006, explores questions of character and heroism. "The Franklin Affair," published in April 2005, explores the world of historians and the quest for truth and justice. "No Certain Rest," published in August 2002, wrestles with a Civil War mystery. Other novels include "The Special Prisoner,"abouta World War II POW; "White Widow," about a Trailways bus driver in the 1950's; two, "Blue Hearts" and "Purple Dots," are about the adventures of retired C.I.A. agents; "The Last Debate," a cautionary tale about journalism, politics and ethics, was also produced as a movie for the Showtime Channel in 2000; and Lehrer's first novel, Viva Max! the story of a platoon of modern Mexican soldiers who attempt to re-take the Alamo, was made into a 1969 comedy movie starring Jonathan Winters and Peter Ustinov. The plays are "Chili Queen," "Church Key Charlie Blue" and "The Will and Bart Show." The memoirs are "We Were Dreamers" and "A Bus of My Own."