Robert MacNeil, former PBS anchor, dies at 93

Robert MacNeil, one-half of the longtime duo who anchored an hourlong evening newscast for PBS stations, has died. He was 93.

MacNeil was originally the solo anchor of “The Robert MacNeil Report,” which started in 1975 as a way to cover the Watergate hearings and eventually evolved into today’s “PBS Newshour.” 

His death was reported by PBS April 12, 2024.

Born in 1931 in Montreal, Canada, MacNeil attended Dalhousie University and graduated from Carleton University. 

Prior to that, he worked for ITV in London, Reuters, BBC and NBC News.

While at NBC, he was on the scene at Daley Plaza when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and happened upon Lee Harvey Oswald exiting the now infamous Texas School Book Depository.

He then anchored a local 30-minute newscast focused on the Watergate hearings for Washington, D.C., member station WETA starting in 1975. It became nationally available later in that year.

Originally the show was only seen on Washington, D.C. PBS member station WETA and was focused on providing coverage of the Watergate hearings. 

Advertisement

The show performed well and earned an Emmy for its coverage of the pivotal hearings. In 1976, journalism Jim Lehrer joined the program as co-anchor and it dropped the “The Robert MacNeil Report” name to become “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”

These broadcasts differed in that they focused on a single topic each night, allowing for extended, in-depth coverage.

In 1983, the show transitioned to an hour and began covering all of the news of the day in order to attempt to compete with the big three networks. It then became known as “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.”

During most of his tenure, MacNeil anchored the show from WNET in New York, with Lehrer in Washington, D.C.

MacNeil retired from the broadcast Oct. 20, 1995. His longtime co-anchor Lehrer anchored the program solo until 2011. Lehrer died in January 2020.

“The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” which is now known as “PBS NewsHour,” is known for its signature 60-minute run-time. The show aims to provide a summary of the day’s top stories before transitioning into more in-depth coverage of major topics. This can include a mix of longer form reporting to interviews to panel discussions. 

Because it does not have commercial breaks and already uses twice clock footprint as its big three rivals, the show is able to offer significantly more coverage than other network newscasts.