Iowa Democratic Caucus fiasco cautions Texas

Dave McNeely

The world has lost a revered longtime newsman, Jim Lehrer, the face of the Public Broadcasting System's nightly news for decades.

Lehrer, 85, died Thursday (Jan. 23) in his sleep at home in Washington, D.C. He is survived by Kate, his wife since 1960, a novelist; daughters Jamie, Lucy and Amanda; and six grandchildren.

In 36 years at PBS, Jim helped bring more depth to television news than commercial broadcasts.

Born in Wichita, KS, his family later moved to Beaumont. He entered San Antonio's Thomas Jefferson High School in his junior year.

His quickly became close friends with his new classmate, Tom Hatfield -- later a reknowned University of Texas in Austin history professor.

Hatfield said Jim, who became editor of the student newspaper, was authentic, smart, always positive, pursued worthy goals, and had energy, integrity and civility that characterized the rest of his life.

He graduated from Victoria College, then got a Journalism degree from the University of Missouri.

After three years in the Marines, Jim became a reporter for the Dallas Morning News in 1959. He quit in 1961, after the paper declined to print his articles about right-wing activities in a civil defense organization.

The rival Dallas Times-Herald hired him. He worked for nine years as a reporter, columnist, and city editor.

I met Jim in 1966. I was a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. We were covering Republican U.S. Sen. John Tower's unlikely re-election -- which he won.

Years later, Jim reminded that we talked until 3:30 one morning in East Texas about writing novels – which he did for the rest of his life.

In 1970, KERA-TV, the Dallas PBS station, to start "Newsroom," a nightly news program. Reporters around a table talked in-depth about the day's news.

In 1970, I began reporting for the Dallas Morning News – and watched Newsroom, became friends with several reporters, and with Jim.

In 1972, he became PBS's coordinator of public affairs, and then in 1973 a PBS correspondent at WETA-TV in Washington. He met Robert "Robin" MacNeil, a Canadian and former reporter for NBC and the BBC.

In 1973, they co-anchored broadcasts about the Watergate investigation. That evolved in 1975 into the half-hour MacNeil/Lehrer Report, which in 1983 became the News Hour.

Jim was "a print/word person at heart," bringing a kind of newspaper for television, balanced and objective in-depth reporting, said The New York Times.

Jim anchored 12 presidential debates from 1988 through 2012 – more than anyone else.

In 1989, my late wife Carole Kneeland, after two decades as a TV reporter, including a decade covering the Texas capitol for WFAA-TV in Dallas, became news director at KVUE-TV, Austin's ABC outlet.

Just before her death of breast cancer in January of 1998, Carole, a prize-winning news director, asked that any memorial to her help coach local TV news directors about skills necessary to survive in a killer job – that she'd had to figure out on her own.

With the critical help of the Texas Association of Broadcasters, in October 1998, 18 attended the first 3-day training seminar in Austin of The Carole Kneeland Project for Responsible Journalism. Tuition and room and board, free; Fellows' companies had to cover transportation.

More than 500 news directors, from all 50 states, have attended the semi-annual seminars. Many called it life-changing.

Jim was on Kneeland's national advisory board for years.

Kneeland Executive Director Stacy Baum said "The last time I corresponded with Jim was in mid-December after we received his third annual $5,000 year-end contribution.

"He said 'Stacy, terrific. Kate and I are real Kneeland believers and we are happy to be a small part of your great work. Have a very happy holidays with your beautiful family and we’ll talk soon. Onward - always, Jim.'"

"We were fortunate to have Jim with us at the 2018 Kneeland fall conference,"said Michael Schneider, Kneeland Board mainstay and Vice President of Legislative & Regulatory Affairs at TAB.

Schneider recalled Jim's "wonderful and inspiring talk to the Fellows and shared his journalist's creed . . . wise advice for anyone working in a newsroom:"

–Do nothing I cannot defend.

–Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.

–Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.

–Assume the same about all people on whom I report.

–Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise.

–Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label everything.

–Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.

–And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Well done, Jim.

Contact McNeely at