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 Chairman’s Award at the 2010 National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences News & Documentary Emmy Awards, the 1999 National Humanities Medal, presented by President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and in October 2011, the National Press Club will present him with their top honor, the Fourth Estate Award. 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.
The Commission on Presidential Debates invited Lehrer to moderate his 12th nationally televised presidential debate on Oct. 3, 2012 in Denver, CO. 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’s contributions as both a journalist and a debate moderator have led many to recognize him with national service awards, including the Colonial Williamsburg Churchill Bell Award in 2011 and the Distinguished Service Award for the Advancement of American Public Discourse on Foreign Policy from the American Committees on Foreign Relations.
Lehrer is the author of 20 novels, two memoirs, three plays and a non-fiction work about the presidential debates titled "Tension City" that was published by Random House in September 2011. His latest novel, “Super,” was published in April 2010 and 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. “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.”
Lehrer and MacNeil were partners in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, a co-producer of "The NewsHour" and producer of other programs and series for public, commercial and cable television-several of which Lehrer hosted. In 2001, Leher co-produced the 2001 Emmy Award-nominated "Debating Our Destiny: Forty Years of Presidential Debates," in which Lehrer interviewed former presidential and vice presidential candidates about their debate experiences. "Lady Bird," a biography of Lady Bird Johnson, aired in December 2001.
In 2013, Lehrer retired from the PBS NewsHour.
Jim Lehrer and his wife, Kate, have been married since 1960. They have three daughters - Amanda, Lucy and Jamie - and six grandchildren. Kate, also a writer, is the author of four novels, "Best Intentions" (1987), "When They Took Away the Man in the Moon" (1993) and "Out of Eden" (1996) and "Confessions of a Bigamist" (2004).