Until his retirement in October 1995, Robert MacNeil was executive editor and co-anchor of The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, a 20-year nightly partnership with Jim Lehrer on PBS.
MacNeil’s 40-year journalism career began with five years at Reuters News Agency in London. He moved to television in 1960 as an NBC News London-based correspondent, covering such major events as the fighting in the Belgian Congo, the Civil War in Algeria, the construction of the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1963 he was transferred to NBC’s Washington Bureau to report on the unfolding civil rights story and to help cover the White House. MacNeil was the NBC News correspondent covering President Kennedy on the day he was assassinated in Dallas.
In 1965, MacNeil became the co-anchor of the first half-hour weekend news broadcast, The Scherer-MacNeil Report on NBC. He also anchored local newscasts and NBC News documentaries, including Whose Right to Bear Arms. In 1967, he returned to London to cover American and European politics as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Panorama program.
MacNeil left the BBC in 1971 to be a senior correspondent for PBS, where he first teamed up with Jim Lehrer to co-anchor public television’s Emmy Award-winning coverage of the Senate Watergate Hearings. Their common disenchantment with the style and values of network news programs resulted in the The Robert MacNeil Report with Jim Lehrer. Launched in October 1975, the nightly half-hour series, soon renamed The MacNeil/Lehrer Report, devoted its entire time each night to a single issue. After eight years, and significant impact on broadcast journalism, the program became The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, the nation’s first full hour of evening news. This innovative approach to the news won many awards, including the 1991 International Television Society Broadcaster of the Year Award, two Emmys in 1992, two 1993 American Journalism Review Best in the Business Awards, and the 1994 Radio and Television Correspondents Association Award for congressional reporting. In February 1999, with Jim Lehrer, MacNeil was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame.
MacNeil has won many personal awards, including two Peabodys, an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, the University of Missouri Medal and the Overseas Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has honorary degrees from many American and Canadian universities. In January 1998, he was made an officer in the Order of Canada.
MacNeil is the author of several books. The People Machine (1968) studied the relationship between television and politics. He has written three memoirs, The Right Place at the Right Time (1982), Wordstruck (1989) and Looking For My Country, Finding Myself in America (2003) and three bestselling novels, Burden of Desire (1992), The Voyage (1995) and Breaking News (1998). He was co-author of The Story of English, a companion volume to the BBC-PBS television series that he hosted, and its sequel, Do You Speak American? (2005), which accompanied the three-hour PBS series on the evolution of American English as spoken today.
Born in Montreal Canada in 1931, brought up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, MacNeil attended Dalhousie University in Halifax and graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa in 1955. During his years at college, MacNeil was an actor for CBC Radio in Halifax, an announcer at CJCH, Halifax, later at CFRA, Ottawa, and CBO/CBOT, Ottawa. He was an aspiring playwright before going into journalism. He became an American citizen in 1997.
With Jim Lehrer, he is a partner in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, producers of The NewsHour; The Story of English; Learning in America; C. Everett Koop, M.D.; Do You Speak American?; By the People and other specials.
MacNeil is chairman of the board of the MacDowell Colony, the 99-year-old retreat for artists, writers and musicians in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He is a trustee of the Freedom Forum Newseum, the world’s first museum of journalism, now being constructed on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., and co-chairman of the Council of Conservators of the New York Public Library.
Robert MacNeil has four children. He lives with his wife Donna in Manhattan and Nova Scotia. Since his retirement from daily journalism, he is devoting most of his time to writing.
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