Jim Lehrer’s Rules
The long-time host of PBS NewsHour Jim Lehrer died this January 23rd at the age of 85. In this age of news as entertainment and opinion as news, Lehrer seems like one of the last of a breed of journalist who took seriously the integrity of informing the American public about important events. In a 1997 report by The Aspen Institute, Lehrer outlined the guidelines he adhered to in practicing journalism:
- Do nothing I cannot defend.*
- Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
- Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
- Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.*
- Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.*
- Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.*
- Assume the same about all people on whom I report.*
- Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
- Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.*
- Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.*
- Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.*
- Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
- Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
- Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers.
- My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice.
- I am not in the entertainment business.*
In his 2006 Harvard commencement address, Lehrer reduced that list to an essential nine items (marked with an * above).