Jim Lehrer Won't Have to 'Do Fisticuffs' on Chip McGrath After All

Jim Lehrer, the longtime anchor of NewsHour on PBS is upset with an article in the New York Times.

No, not that article.

In his bedroom, this past Sunday morning, Mr. Lehrer pored over a piece in the Times by writer-at-large Charles McGrath, entitled "Is PBS Still Necessary?"

"I was stunned," said Mr. Lehrer.

In the essay, Mr. McGrath questioned whether the "glory days" of public television were "past recapturing." He argued that the PBS lineup suffers from "mustiness." He suggested that the rise of cable television had eclipsed the need for much of PBS’s programming. And he contrasted the current state of public radio (a success!) with that of public television (a mess!).

"Who would have guessed 40 years ago, when public broadcasting came into being, that the antique medium, the one supposedly on its way out, would prove to be the greater success and the one more technically nimble," wrote Mr. McGrath.

On Thursday afternoon, Mr. Lehrer told the Media Mob that he disagreed with the underlying comparison. "It’s apple and oranges," said Mr. Lehrer. "I read that and I said, my god, this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t know where he got his position. But it wasn’t based on any reporting."

Mr. Lehrer added that he was not exactly ecstatic to find his own name mentioned in the piece.

"Jim Lehrer, 73, has been with NewsHour since 1975," wrote Mr. McGrath, "so long that some of his early viewers are now in assisted living."

"When he took that hit on me, I thought what the hell is that about?" said Mr. Lehrer. "If he had said, he’s not only 73-years-old but he slobbers on the air and can’t do an interview, I would have at least understood what he was up to. But just the fact that I’m 73…It was kind of weird. I was stunned by that. It’s so over the top."

On Tuesday night, Mr. Lehrer invited viewers of the NewsHour to weigh in on the controversy over at the NewsHour web site. Afterwards, according to Mr. Lehrer, thousands of positive comments defending public television flooded in.

"I feel much better now," said Mr. Lehrer. "It’s turned out to be a very positive development. It’s rallied people. It’s roused people. Fortunately, the folks who do watch us and care about us have reacted in a huge way. So I’m not going to have to do fisticuffs with anybody." Jim Lehrer Won't Have to 'Do Fisticuffs' on Chip McGrath After All