When the Tucson massacre broke, PBS’s Jim Lehrer spent two days glued to … CNN.
That’s because the tragedy occurred on a Saturday, and on weekends, the public network has no regular news presence. PBS didn’t get around to covering the story until that Monday evening — on Lehrer’s “NewsHour,” with correspondent Tom Bearden reporting from the field.
Even PBS ombudsman Michael Getler labeled PBS’s absence as “an abdication of duty” that resulted in “sending regular PBS viewers to other networks.” Including regular viewers like Lehrer, one of the most respected journalists on the planet.
“I was itching to get on the air,” he acknowledges. “Despite my advanced age , when I see the fire trucks, I want to know where they’re going. It’s a hell of a story. I wish we had had the airtime and resources to cover it.”
The acerbic Lehrer, who’s been at PBS since “aught four,” has lobbied PBS for decades to expand the weekday “NewsHour.” Sisyphus had a better shot.
“It’s something we pushed for many years, but the resources have never been there for it,” says Lehrer. “We’ve had a couple proposals to have a Sunday edition of “NewsHour,” but it’s never come into being. Maybe we haven’t pushed hard enough.”
“NewsHour” has long been a crown jewel in PBS’s news-and-public affairs lineup. It launched with Lehrer and Robert MacNeil in 1975 as the 30-minute ”MacNeil/Lehrer Report.” Eight years later, it became the country’s first hour-long nightly national newscast. MacNeil left the show in 1995.
Even if “NewsHour” had done special reports on the Tucson situation that Saturday and Sunday, there would have been another problem, according to Lehrer. Nobody would have