Renowned American Journalist Robert MacNeil Dies at 93


A titan of American journalism and an emblem of integrity in news reporting, Robert MacNeil, breathed his last Friday, at the age of 93. The creator and co-anchor of the influential PBS program, “The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour,” his demise was the result of natural causes, confirmed his daughter Alison MacNeil from New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

An illustrious and brilliant career saw MacNeil rise into prominence with his insightful coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings, reflecting his unmatched prowess in public broadcasting. He would later collaborate with his late partner and friend, Jim Lehrer, to launch the “Robert MacNeil Report” on PBS in 1975. Lehrer served as the Washington correspondent, a teaming which would eventually birth the nation’s first one-hour broadcast, christened the “MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour” in 1983.

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A pioneer in challenging rival news programs, MacNeil navigating away from the hyped news culture of ABC, CBS, and NBC, sought to establish a balanced and well-rounded perspective through his program. In 1983, he told the Chicago Tribune, “We don’t need to SELL the news.” He criticized the networks’ sensationalism and lamented the insufficient context and balance required for the understanding of important events.

Twenty years of anchoring the “NewsHour” saw MacNeil retire in 1995 to focus on his writing, with Lehrer succeeding him until 2009. Lehrer himself exited the world stage in 2020. MacNeil, on commemorating the 30th anniversary of the show in 2005, fondly recollected the program’s creation in a time before cable television, as an initiative to offer a style of journalism distinct from commercial networks.

A prolific writer, MacNeil authored best-selling memoirs such as “The Right Place at the Right Time” and “Wordstruck,” including novels like “Burden of Desire” and “The Voyage.” He embraced writing as a personal medium that allowed the authentic expression of his thoughts and desires, as opposed to the collaborative approach television mandated.

In 1986, he composed the commendable series “The Story of English” under the wing of the MacNeil-Lehrer production brand, followed by a co-authored companion book bearing the same name. A subsequent co-authored book on language, “Do You Speak American?” was adapted into a PBS documentary in 2005.

MacNeil continued to contribute towards the public’s understanding of the changing world, hosting the PBS package “America at a Crossroads” in 2007. This six-night series was an exploration of the post-9/11 challenges facing the United States. Long before the 9/11 attacks, he had prophesied the turning of the public’s attention towards significant news in the face of national tragedies.

Born in Montreal in 1931, MacNeil spent his early life in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and pursued his graduation from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1955. Initiating his journalism career with Reuters in London, he transitioned to TV journalism in 1960 with NBC as their foreign correspondent. Assignments followed, reporting on Civil Rights and White House incidents, covering President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and the 1964 presidential campaign, among other noteworthy events.

His career trajectory saw him anchor the debut half-hour weekend network news broadcast, “The Scherer-MacNeil Report,” on NBC in 1965. Following a transfer to BBC in 1967, he reported on key events like the clash between anti-war demonstrators and police at the Democratic Convention of 1968, and the funerals of renowned figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Robert Kennedy, and President Dwight Eisenhower. In 1971, he exited BBC to work for PBS, leading him to his celebrated partnership with Lehrer to anchor public television’s Emmy-winning coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.