I’d been kind of nervous all last week in anticipation of my opportunity to interview Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour. Thanks to Paul Nagel and Rich Cornell (see my April 18 entry), I had a chance to meet him at his hotel in downtown Minneapolis. He was in town as part of his current cross-country tour.
Rich is making a documentary about Paul Nagel and Lehrer is Paul’s friend. Rich wanted to get him into the film, but he was going to be in Europe this weekend when Mr. Lehrer would be in town. Rich asked me if I would interview him for the film and I jumped at the chance. I told MinnPost about what I was doing and they said they’d love to get something, too.
So I was feeling some pressure. Me with my limited experience, marginal camera and mic, no lighting — not to mention my generally bumbling ways — interviewing a broadcast news icon. The man has moderated 11 presidential debates for God sake!
I met Paul at his apartment and we walked the 5 or 6 blocks down the Nicollet Mall together to meet Lehrer at his hotel. I had a 30 minute, 3:00 appointment — they squeezed me in between a radio interview and a speech at the University of Minnesota Friends of the Library meeting at Coffman Union. Mr. Lehrer arrived in the lobby at about 2:50. He gave me a big smile as we shook hands and said to me, “I know who you are, but who’s this guy?” (pointing to Paul). He then asked if he could have a couple of minutes to run up to his room because he had spilled something on his shirt. I immediately liked him.
The manager of the Marquette Hotel was kind enough to let us use an area of the bar to tape the interview. Being the newsman and orator he is, Mr. Lehrer did wonderful, effortless monologues about Paul Nagel, the news business, moderating presidential debates and his upcoming visit (today) to the Greyhound Bus Museum in Hibbing, Minnesota. He was just as honest, eloquent, and gracious as the the man we’ve seen on PBS since the ’70s. We managed to chit chat a little about our common interest in the state of West Virginia and I (presumptuously) gave him a copy of my movie, “Welcome to Coalwood”. He told me that I was way ahead of most first-time writers and filmmakers because I had actually finished something.
I then went over to the reception at the University of Minnesota to get a few still photos and shoot a little video of both of them in action with the crowd. All in all, it was an exhilarating and exhausting day. What a thrill! I’ll never forget it.
Here’s my two-part interview with Jim Lehrer for MinnPost.