When Jim Lehrer, Executive Editor and PBS’ NewsHour Anchor, visited KERA sometime back, we were lucky to catch him for a full hour of intimate conversation, televised of course. Jim Lehrer shared some of his local story and how he got his start as PBS’ NewsHour Anchor at the studio where it all started… KERA.
Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1934, Jim received his A.A. from Victoria College, and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri, before joining the Marine Corps. In 1959, he joined the Dallas Morning News as a reporter, where he stayed until 1966. He tells us he wrote a story about the civil defense organization, that the Dallas Morning News wouldn’t run. So without having another job to go to, a young one at home and one on the way, he walked out. “The real hero of the story is Katie, my wife. She said, Honey, you just come on home.” He landed at the Dallas Times Herald where he stayed for several years and in 1968 became the city editor.
Then in 1970, came KERA… Bob Wilson, then manager of news and public affairs had this idea for nightly news, and experimental program,
“We didn’t know what we were doing. We started PBS’ NewsHour with the Beatles’, ‘Here Comes the Sun,’ and ended with ‘Oh Happy Day’ as our theme songs. Our thinking, with ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is we’d shed light on the deep dark secrets of Dallas. We did news analysis and opinion on local news. We were diverse before anyone else was, and had Afro-American, a Mexican, and a woman as reporters! Plus an environmental reporter! And we became a factor in Dallas journalism. The Editors quit sitting on stories, all little games they’d played for years, because their reporters would send them over to us. All bets were off. It made it possible for Editors to say, ‘Hey we’ve got to run this story because the kooks at Channel 13 will run it.’”
Jim believes that true journalism provides a forum of all the public news. It provides information for people who want it. “Its role in a democratic society is to provide information to the people so they can make informed decisions, when they vote… We are information gatherers and dispensers.”
In part one of this segment we show clips of an earlier program we produced, Is There Bias in the Media that featured interviews with Jim Lehrer, Bob Schieffer, Dan Rather and Bill Moyers. Dennis McCuistion asked:
What is the most important responsibility of the journalist?
Bob Schieffer answered: To find out the truth. To provide a forum that makes it possible to examine all public issues… To provide information.
Dan Rather: To be accurate and to be fair. The competition right now is unmerciful. It’s tough to survive in difficult times and we have to be accurate.
Bill Moyers: To connect the dots from A to B to C. on what’s on the surface and under the surface.
Jim Lehrer tells us:
“In journalism we go where people can’t go on their own so we can report back to people. … There’s a slippery slope going on, especially in commercial news networks. The competition is so fierce… there’s a ‘we have to have an edge, we have to have an edge.’ Down that road is loss of credibility. The news- is to give information, provide analysis and provide opinion. And the same person cannot do all three. We have to remember what Thomas Jefferson said, ‘If democratic society is going to function you have to have an informed electorate.’ That’s what journalism was created to do, inform the electorate. Simple”
Dennis asks if we are losing an informed electorate. And he asks if he, Lehrer, has been pressured by PBS to dumb down content?
“No, No, No,” answers Lehrer. The program goes on to discuss the ethics of journalism and Neil Postman’s work, Amusing Ourselves to Death, whose premise that we’ve lost putting issues in context, and that because of television we have taken issues and tried to put them into sound bites. So we are amusing ourselves to death. Says Lehrer, “if you have to be entertained, go to the circus. We’re not here to entertain.”
Jim Lehrer has been honored with numerous awards for journalism, including the 1999 National Humanities Medal. He and McNeill were inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, and into the Washington D.C. chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts and Science. He has won two Emmys and a Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, among others. Mr. Lehrer has served as a moderator for eleven of the nationally televised debates in the last six Presidential elections. He comments, “it is the most difficult, scary, satisfying and exhilarating honor. It’s not a TV show. This is about who’s going to be the next President of the United States and I do not want any voter, any American to say so and so was treated unfairly by Jim Lehrer. It’s not the function of journalism to do a Presidential debate. My job is that of facilitator.”
Tune in… for the rest of the story in this two part series with PBS’ NewsHour Anchor, Jim Lehrer.
Niki Nicastro McCuistion… Producer
1511 – 07.05.09