Jim Lehrer, who co-founded PBS' NewsHour and anchored the show for decades until his retirement in 2011, died Thursday at age 85, the public broadcasting station announced. Lehrer, who started his journalism career in Dallas in the 1960s, was the founding co-anchor, along with Robert MacNeil, of a single-topic PBS news program starting in 1975. In 1983, it expanded to the multi-topic MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour; after MacNeil retired in 1995, it became NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. But while Lehrer was for years a familiar face for public television viewers, the New York Times says he became a household name in part thanks to the dozen presidential debates he moderated. He started in 1988 (Bush vs. Dukakis) and then continued in every presidential campaign through 2012, sometimes moderating multiple debates in one year.
Lehrer, who "died peacefully in his sleep" at his Washington home, per PBS, also wrote multiple novels, four plays, and three memoirs; hosted a 12-part series on modern China; hosted an Emmy-winning documentary based on his experience with heart surgery; and himself won multiple Emmys and numerous other awards and honors. He and MacNeil were known for their civil, unbiased, and in-depth reporting, and during his career, Lehrer interviewed presidents, prime ministers, lawmakers, titans of business, and other well-known people. PBS says one of his "most notable" sit-downs was with Bill Clinton as Kenneth Starr was investigating allegations of the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky; he also, the station notes, was "calm and careful" in his coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks. He is survived by his wife, three daughters, and six grandchildren. (Read more Jim Lehrer stories.)