Jim Lehrer, award-winning television journalist, presidential debate moderator, and prolific novelist, will be the principal speaker at Afternoon Exercises during Harvard University’s 355th Commencement, to be held on June 8.
“As concern mounts about the eroding independence and standards of American journalism in the face of political and commercial pressures,” said Yuki Moore Laurenti, president of the Harvard Alumni Association, “Jim Lehrer remains a respected professional whose objectivity and intelligence have earned the trust of millions of viewers. I very much look forward to hearing him speak to our alumni in June.”
Lehrer first came to national attention in 1973, when he teamed with Robert MacNeil to cover the Senate Watergate hearings. After the hearings ended, the partnership went on, billed as the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report” in 1975 and as the “MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour” in 1983. The latter was television’s first 60-minute evening news program. In 1995, with MacNeil’s retirement, the program became “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”
Lehrer has moderated 10 debates between candidates running for president of the United States; most recently he was moderator of the first presidential debate between George W. Bush and John Kerry on Sept. 30, 2004. His colleague Bernard Shaw of CNN has dubbed Lehrer “the dean of moderators.”
The recipient of numerous awards for journalism, including a Presidential National Humanities Medal in 1999, Lehrer began his journalistic career as a sports editor for the Jefferson Declaration, the student newspaper of Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. After graduating from Victoria College in Texas and from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, he signed up for a three-year stint with the U.S. Marines, then took a job as a newspaper reporter in Dallas.
After 10 years in print journalism, Lehrer became host of a local news program on public television. In 1972, he moved to Washington, D.C., as a journalist with PBS.
Born in Wichita, Kan., in 1934, Lehrer first aspired to be a baseball player, but soon turned to writing, for which he proved to have far more talent. Originally, he took up newspaper writing to support himself while he struggled to write fiction, and this ambition has by no means been abandoned. His first novel, “Viva Max!” (1966), a comedy about a Mexican general who retakes the Alamo to impress his girlfriend, was made into a movie in 1969 with Peter Ustinov and Jonathan Winters.
Since then, Lehrer has written 15 novels, including mysteries, historical novels, and stories of contemporary life. His work is known for its careful plotting and thorough research. His latest book is “The Franklin Affair” (2005), a historical whodunit about plagiarism, academic rivalry, and murder. He has also written two memoirs and three plays. He once remarked that while he is now known as “the TV guy who also writes books, someday maybe it will go the other way, and I’ll be the novelist who also does television.”