Robert MacNeil, creator and anchor of PBS ‘NewsHour,’ dies at 93. : NPR

This February 1978 photo shows Robert MacNeil, editor of the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”


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This February 1978 photo shows Robert MacNeil, editor of the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”


NEW YORK — Robert MacNeil, who created PBS’s unbiased, no-nonsense newscast “The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour” in the 1970s and co-hosted the show with his late partner, Jim Lehrer, for two decades, is died Friday. . He was 93 years old.

MacNeil died of natural causes at New York Presbyterian Hospital, according to his daughter, Alison MacNeil.

MacNeil first became known for his coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings for the Public Broadcasting Service and began his half-hour “Robert MacNeil Report” on PBS in 1975 with his friend Lehrer as correspondent in Washington.

The show became the “MacNeil-Lehrer Report”, then in 1983 it was expanded to an hour and renamed the “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour”. The nation’s first hour-long evening news show and recipient of multiple Emmy and Peabody awards, it remains on the air today with Geoff Bennett and Amna Nawaz as anchors.

It was MacNeil and Lehrer’s disenchantment with the style and content of competing news programs on ABC, CBS and NBC that led to the program’s creation.

“We don’t need to SELL the news,” MacNeil told the Chicago Tribune in 1983. “The networks exaggerate the news to make it seem vital, important. What’s missing (in 22 minutes) is context, sometimes balance, and a consideration of the questions that certain events raise.

MacNeil left his anchor duties at “NewsHour” after two decades in 1995 to write full time. Lehrer took over the television news alone and remained there until 2009. Lehrer died in 2020.

When MacNeil visited the show in October 2005 to commemorate its 30th anniversary, he recalled how their newscast began before cable television.

“It was a way of doing something that seemed journalistically necessary and yet different from what commercial network news (programs) were doing,” he said.

MacNeil has written several books, including two memoirs “The Right Place at the Right Time” and the best-selling “Wordstruck,” as well as the novels “The Burden of Desire” and “The Journey.”

“Writing is much more personal. It’s not collaborative like television has to be,” MacNeil told the Associated Press in 1995. “But when you’re sitting down writing a novel, there’s no to you: this is what I think, this is what I want to do. And that’s me.

MacNeil also created the Emmy-winning 1986 series “The Story of English” with the MacNeil-Lehrer production company, and was co-author of the companion book of the same name.

Another book on language he co-wrote, “Do You Speak American?”, was adapted into a PBS documentary in 2005.

In 2007, he served as host of “America at the Crossroads,” a six-night PBS program exploring the challenges facing the United States in the post-9/11 world.

Six years before the September 11 attacks, speaking of the sensationalism and frivolity of the news industry, he said: “If something really bad happened to the nation – a stock market crash like that of 1929… the equivalent of a Pearl Harbor – wouldn’t the news become very serious again? Wouldn’t people shy away from “Hard Copy” and titillation?

“Of course you would. You’d have to know what’s going on.”

It did – for a while.

Born in Montreal in 1931, MacNeil grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1955 before moving to London where he began his career as a journalist at Reuters. He moved to television news in 1960, taking a job with NBC in London as a foreign correspondent.

In 1963, MacNeil transferred to NBC’s Washington bureau, where he reported on civil rights and the White House. He covered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas and spent most of 1964 following the presidential campaign between Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson, and Republican Barry Goldwater.

In 1965, MacNeil became the New York anchor of the first half-hour weekend news show, “The Scherer-MacNeil Report” on NBC. In New York, he also anchored local newscasts and several NBC news documentaries, including “The Big Ear” and “The Right to Bear Arms.”

MacNeil returned to London in 1967 as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corp. series “Panorama.” While at the BBC, you’ll be able to cover American stories such as the clash between anti-war protesters and Chicago police at the 1968 Democratic Convention, as well as the funeral of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Senator Robert Kennedy and President Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1971, MacNeil left the BBC to become senior correspondent for PBS, where he teamed up with Lehrer to co-anchor public television’s Emmy-winning coverage of the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings.

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With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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