Robert MacNeil

Journalist


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his seven-hour Archive interview, Robert MacNeil speaks about his long and illustrious career in journalism, starting in London with Independent Television (ITV) and later with Reuters. He recalls being hired at the NBC bureau in London, covering the Berlin crisis (when the Berlin wall was erected) and reporting on the Cuban Missile Crisis (from inside Cuba). He details his move to Washington D.C., where he covered the Kennedy assassination in Dallas (unknowingly meeting Lee Harvey Oswald) and the Civil Rights Movement in the South. He recounts covering Lyndon Johnson, as well as the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and reporting on the downfall of Richard Nixon. MacNeil outlines his work on NBC's The Huntley-Brinkley Report, where he acted as a "roving reporter" and talks about leaving NBC and his work with the BBC. He discusses the beginnings of his partnership with Jim Lehrer and recounts stories from The MacNeil Lehrer Report (later the MacNeil Lehrer Newshour). He speaks of his more recent work as a novelist and finally comments on the then-current and future state of network news. Don Carleton conducted the interview on November 18, 2000 and May 15, 2001 in New York, NY.

"Television has changed journalism utterly, as it's changed the whole culture. To have been able for a few years to hold the line against a tide that's going to engulf us all in the end has been a source of gratification to me."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Robert MacNeil on covering Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the Civil Rights Movement
Robert MacNeil on interviewing Rose Kennedy
Robert MacNeil on covering Watergate
Robert MacNeil on starting The MacNeil Lehrer  NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on naming The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on being on a bus directly following John F. Kennedy's Presidential motorcade in Dallas to cover the story for NBC news; witnessing the assassination; inadvertently running into the Texas Book Depository to call the newsroom where he later learned the shots were believed to be fired from; and how he managed to continue to call the story in from a payphone at the hospital where Kennedy had been pronounced dead after all the reporters were kicked out.
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on radio he listened to growing up
On his experiences during World War II; on his education and his first job in broadcasting at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

Chapter 2

On becoming a writer; on his first experience with television 
On working for the BBC; on the Hollywood Blacklist; on going to work for NBC News

Chapter 3

On working with John Chancellor at NBC; on covering the Belgian Congo uprising
On covering the rise of the Berlin Wall; on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis

Chapter 4

On covering the Cuban Missile Crisis; on covering the Cold War in East Berlin
On covering Algeria; on covering the Civil Rights Movement; on covering the Kennedy White House and the Barry Goldwater campaign

Chapter 5

On covering Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign
On covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News

Chapter 6

On covering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination for NBC News
On covering the 1964 campaign for The Huntley-Brinkley Report; on acting as a roving reporter and covering the death of Winston Churchill

Chapter 7

On covering the death of Winston Churchill; on anchoring news on NBC and leaving for the BBC
On his critique of The Huntley-Brinkley Report and of network news in general

Chapter 8

On his experience working for the BBC; on the differences between British and US news; on covering Richard Nixon
On going to work at PBS and being teamed with Jim Lehrer; on leaving the BBC; on the Public Broadcasting Laboratory

Chapter 9

On how the Kennedy and Johnson administrations dealt with the press; on the press' treatment of American Presidents
On covering the Civil Rights Movement; on television's role in the major news events of the 20th century

Chapter 10

On the special The World is Watching; on editing news stories
On covering Watergate; on the birth of his partnership with Jim Lehrer

Chapter 11

On the internal politics at PBS; on stories he covered for the BBC
On interviewing Rose Kennedy; on Washington Week in Review; on starting The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour

Chapter 12

On establishing The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour; on naming The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour; on the format of the show
On critical reaction to The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour; on expanding The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour  to an hour; on the logistics of the show and hiring staff

Chapter 13

On the production and distribution of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour; on writing for The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour; on his on-air chemistry with Jim Lehrer
On researching a story and his interview technique; on his favorite interviews that he's done; on almost interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeini

Chapter 14

On attempting to interview the Ayatollah Khomeini; on various side-broadcasting jobs; on producing and hosting The Story of English
On the then-current state of the media; on ethics in journalism; on summing up his career and how he'd like to be remembered
Shows

Huntley-Brinkley Report, The

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Robert MacNeil on working on The Huntley-Brinkley Report and covering the 1964 campaign
Robert MacNeil on acting as roving reporter for The Huntley-Brinkley Report
Robert MacNeil on his critique of The Huntley-Brinkley Report and of network news in general

NBC News

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Robert MacNeil on working with John Chancellor at NBC
Robert MacNeil on covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News

NewsHour with Jim Lehrer aka PBS NewsHour

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Robert MacNeil on The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and how the show developed
Robert MacNeil on starting The MacNeil Lehrer  NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on establishing The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on naming The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on the early format and the set of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and being courted by ABC
Robert MacNeil on critical reaction to The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and various stories they covered
Robert MacNeil on choosing what stories to cover on The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and expanding the show to an hour
Robert MacNeil on the logistics of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and hiring staff for the show
Robert MacNeil on the production of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and how the show is distributed to PBS stations
Robert MacNeil on doing the assignments for The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and writing his scripts
Robert MacNeil on his chemistry with Jim Lehrer on The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on leaving The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on Charlayne Hunter-Gault joining The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour

Washington Week

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Robert MacNeil on Washington Week in Review
Topics

Civil Rights Movement

View Topic
Robert MacNeil on covering Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech and the Civil Rights Movement
Robert MacNeil on covering the Civil Rights Movement
Robert MacNeil on The Whole World is Watching

Cold War

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Robert MacNeil on covering the Belgian Congo Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the rise of The Berlin Wall
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cold War in East Berlin

Creative Influences and Inspiration

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Robert MacNeil on his mentors

Criticism of TV

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Robert MacNeil on critical reaction to The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour  and various stories they covered

First Big Break

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Robert MacNeil on how he came to work for NBC

Hollywood Blacklist

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Robert MacNeil on the Hollywood Blacklist

Industry Crossroads

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Robert MacNeil on the Hollywood Blacklist

Iran Hostage Crisis

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Robert MacNeil on almost interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeini
Robert MacNeil on attempting to interview the Ayatollah Khomeini

JFK Assassination and Funeral

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Robert MacNeil on covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on being on a bus directly following John F. Kennedy's Presidential motorcade in Dallas to cover the story for NBC news; witnessing the assassination; inadvertently running into the Texas Book Depository to call the newsroom where he later learned the shots were believed to be fired from; and how he managed to continue to call the story in from a payphone at the hospital where Kennedy had been pronounced dead after all the reporters were kicked out.
Robert MacNeil on covering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas for NBC News

John F. Kennedy

View Topic
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cold War in East Berlin
Robert MacNeil on covering the Kennedy White House and Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign 
Robert MacNeil on covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on covering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on how Kennedy and Johnson dealt with the press
Robert MacNeil on interviewing Rose Kennedy

Lyndon B. Johnson

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Robert MacNeil on working on The Huntley-Brinkley Report and covering the 1964 campaign
Robert MacNeil on how Kennedy and Johnson dealt with the press

Pivotal Career Moments

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Robert MacNeil on how he came to work for NBC
Robert MacNeil on his mentors

Richard M. Nixon

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Robert MacNeil on covering Vietnam and Richard Nixon
Robert MacNeil on going to work for PBS and covering the Watergate hearings with Jim Lehrer
Robert MacNeil on covering Watergate
Robert MacNeil on the inside politics at PBS of covering the Watergate hearings

Television Industry

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Robert MacNeil on critical reaction to The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour  and various stories they covered

Television and the Presidency

View Topic
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cold War in East Berlin
Robert MacNeil on covering the Kennedy White House and Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign 
Robert MacNeil on covering the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign 
Robert MacNeil on covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on covering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on working on The Huntley-Brinkley Report  and covering the 1964 campaign
Robert MacNeil on covering Vietnam and Richard Nixon
Robert MacNeil on going to work for PBS and covering the Watergate hearings with Jim Lehrer
Robert MacNeil on how Kennedy and Johnson dealt with the press
Robert MacNeil on how Kennedy and Johnson dealt with the press
Robert MacNeil on the way the press treats different presidents
Robert MacNeil on covering Watergate
Robert MacNeil on interviewing Rose Kennedy
Robert MacNeil on the inside politics at PBS of covering the Watergate hearings

Vietnam War

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Robert MacNeil on covering Vietnam and Richard Nixon

War

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Robert MacNeil on his experience of World War II
Robert MacNeil on covering the Belgian Congo Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the rise of The Berlin Wall
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cuban Missile Crisis
Robert MacNeil on covering the Cold War in East Berlin

World War II

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Robert MacNeil on his experience of World War II
Professions

Anchor

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Robert MacNeil on the logistics of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and hiring staff for the show

Journalists & News Producers

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Robert MacNeil on editing news stories 
Robert MacNeil on the logistics of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and hiring staff for the show
Robert MacNeil on doing the assignments for The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour  and writing his scripts
Robert MacNeil on how he goes about researching a story he's covering and his interview technique
Robert MacNeil on the difference between serious journalism and not serious journalism
Robert MacNeil on the journalist's code of ethics

News Producer

View Profession
Robert MacNeil on editing news stories 
Robert MacNeil on the logistics of The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and hiring staff for the show
Robert MacNeil on doing the assignments for The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour and writing his scripts
Robert MacNeil on how he goes about researching a story he's covering and his interview technique
Robert MacNeil on the difference between serious journalism and not serious journalism
Robert MacNeil on the journalist's code of ethics
Genres

News and Documentary

View Genre
Robert MacNeil on covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on covering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on acting as roving reporter for NBC's Huntley-Brinkley Report
Robert MacNeil on his critique of The Huntley-Brinkley Report  and of network news in general
Robert MacNeil on going to work for PBS and covering the Watergate hearings with Jim Lehrer
Robert MacNeil on starting The MacNeil Lehrer  NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour   and how the show developed
Robert MacNeil on creating and anchoring The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on anchoring and producing The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
People

John Chancellor

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Robert MacNeil on working with John Chancellor at NBC

Winston Churchill

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Robert MacNeil on on acting as roving reporter for The Huntley-Brinkley Report and covering the death of Winston Churchill
Robert MacNeil on covering the death of Winston Churchill

Lyndon B. Johnson

View Person Page
Robert MacNeil on how Kennedy and Johnson dealt with the press

John F. Kennedy

View Person Page
Robert MacNeil on covering the Kennedy White House and Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign 
Robert MacNeil on covering the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on covering the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas for NBC News
Robert MacNeil on how Kennedy and Johnson dealt with the press

Martin Luther King, Jr.

View Person Page
Robert MacNeil on covering Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the Civil Rights Movement

Jim Lehrer

View Interview Page
Robert MacNeil on going to work for PBS and covering the Watergate hearings with Jim Lehrer
Robert MacNeil on the birth of his partnership with Jim Lehrer
Robert MacNeil on starting The MacNeil Lehrer  NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on establishing The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on naming The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour
Robert MacNeil on his chemistry with Jim Lehrer on The MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour

Richard M. Nixon

View Person Page
Robert MacNeil on covering Vietnam and Richard Nixon
Robert MacNeil on covering Watergate

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