Robert MacNeil, the stately journalist who introduced information to PBS, dies at 93


Robert MacNeil, whose protection of the Watergate scandal led to the primary nightly newscast for PBS, died Friday in Manhattan after an extended sickness. He was 93.

A PBS consultant confirmed MacNeil’s loss of life.

MacNeil was the founding anchor of “PBS NewsHour,” which was first launched in 1975 as “The Robert MacNeil Report” and later renamed “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” Within the years earlier than cable information and the web, this system was the lone nationwide TV different to the newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC.

MacNeil was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Jan. 19, 1931, the son of a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He dropped out of Dalhousie College in Halifax to pursue an appearing profession and have become an announcer for CBC.

After shifting to England in 1955, he turned to journalism, becoming a member of the information service Reuters. 5 years later he grew to become a London correspondent for NBC Information.

MacNeil was transferred to NBC’s Washington bureau in 1963 in the course of the Kennedy administration and reported extensively from Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was killed by an murderer. Viewers who watched NBC Information on Nov. 22, 1963, heard MacNeil name in from a cellphone sales space to verify the president’s loss of life.

MacNeil grew to become an anchor at NBC Information and on the community’s native New York station, WNBC.

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NBC Information’ Washington correspondent Robert MacNeil in 1963.

(NBC/NBCUniversal by way of Getty Pictures)

MacNeil was employed by PBS in 1971 to be the host its first public affairs program, “Washington Week in Assessment.” The service deliberate to crew him with one other former NBC Information journalist, Sander Vanocur, to cowl the 1972 presidential marketing campaign.

However PBS plans to get into the information enterprise met resistance from President Nixon’s administration. Nixon objected to the hiring of Vanocur, who was recognized to be near Kennedy, who defeated him within the 1960 presidential race.

MacNeil believed the opposition was pushed by Nixon’s basic disdain for the media.

“I feel it was primarily the concern of a fourth, as he noticed it, ‘liberal’ community,” MacNeil mentioned in a 2020 interview with The Occasions.

Vanocur didn’t take the job, and MacNeil was finally teamed with Jim Lehrer, a former Dallas newspaper reporter who labored behind the scenes at PBS. They ended up offering protection of the Senate hearings on Watergate.

The protection made the pair TV information stars.

The industrial networks have been hesitant to preempt their recreation reveals and cleaning soap operas to current the hearings. They rotated in offering gavel-to-gavel protection.

However for noncommercial PBS, the hearings have been a significant alternative. For 47 days and nights in 1973, the service lined each minute of the proceedings. They have been repeated in prime time for viewers who missed the continuing daytime saga within the period earlier than DVRs and streaming.

Viewers loved the dignified mixture of MacNeil, who spoke in a clipped, erudite method; and Lehrer, a Kansas native with a tender heartland drawl. Off-camera they grew to become shut buddies and enterprise companions. (Lehrer died in 2020).

Their Watergate protection introduced PBS massive rankings. Monetary contributions from viewers poured in.

A 12 months after the hearings, MacNeil was given his personal nightly half-hour program, produced out of the studios of PBS New York flagship WNET. Lehrer reported from Washington, D.C., and his title was added to this system title in 1976 when it was provided to stations nationally.

In 1983, this system was renamed “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” and have become a signature sequence for PBS that also airs in the present day as “PBS NewsHour.”

The anchor duo entered a novel association after they shaped a manufacturing firm and have become house owners of this system within the mid-Eighties. They produced the “PBS NewsHour” till 2014, when it was taken over by the service’s Washington station WETA.

“The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” by no means deviated from its mandate to offer a extra subdued and severe strategy to masking the information of the day. When the trial of O.J. Simpson grew to become a dominant TV information story within the mid-Nineties, the “NewsHour” devoted scant consideration to it outdoors the decision.

After leaving this system, MacNeil continued to supply and host documentaries for PBS. He additionally wrote a number of books.

“He was sensible and urbane, however at all times with a pleasant sense of irony,” mentioned Judy Woodruff, who later served as a “PBS NewsHour” anchor. “I’m so grateful to have spoken with him in January on his birthday, when that iconic, deep Canadian baritone voice sounded precisely because it had when he final anchored the ‘NewsHour’ nearly 30 years in the past.”

MacNeil is survived by two kids from his first marriage, Ian and Cathy MacNeil; two kids from his second marriage, Alison and Will MacNeil; and 5 grandchildren.


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