Robert MacNeil, Earnest News Anchor for PBS, Dies at 93

Robert MacNeil, the Canadian-born journalist who delivered sober evening newscasts for more than two decades on PBS as the co-anchor of “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report,” later expanded as “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” died early Friday in Manhattan. He was 93.

His death, at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital, was confirmed by his daughter Alison MacNeil.

Mr. MacNeil spent time at NBC News early in his career and was a reporter for the network in Dallas on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But he came to reject the flashier style of the commercial American networks, and in 1971 he joined the fledgling Public Broadcasting Service.

He brought with him a news sensibility honed at the BBC, where he had worked in the interim, and became a key figure in shaping U.S. public television’s in-depth and evenhanded approach to news coverage.

A pairing with Jim Lehrer in 1973 to cover the Senate Watergate hearings for PBS was unpopular with the operators of many local public stations, who thought the prime-time broadcasts weren’t appropriate evening fare. But the two men’s serious demeanor was a hit with viewers, and the broadcasts won an Emmy Award and eventually launched an enduring collaboration.

In October 1975, some major public stations began carrying the “The Robert MacNeil Report,” a half-hour of Mr. MacNeil’s design that examined a single issue each night and shunned showy production values. Within a year the program was renamed “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.” It was expanded again in 1983 to become “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” a multitopic program that was the nation’s first full hour of evening news.

The program offered a stark counterpoint to the ever-frothier newscasts on the commercial networks’ local affiliates and was honored with every major broadcast journalism award.

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