Jim Lehrer on Colbert: I am ‘Bias-Free’ And The ‘Flavor of Neutrality’

Appearing on the Monday edition of Comedy Central’s "Colbert Report," PBS host Jim Lehrer dismissed any hint of a liberal agenda, declaring himself "bias-free." The "NewsHour" anchor also indicated that the real problem is the distorted viewers, not slanted reporting:

Stephen Colbert: "Now, um, do you believe that you have a liberal bias?"

Jim Lehrer: "I know I do not have a liberal bias."

Colbert: "You know you have a liberal bias?"

Lehrer: "No. I do not have a liberal bias. I do not have--"

Colbert: "You don't have a liberal bias."

Lehrer: "I don't have a conservative bias either. I don't have any bias. I am bias-free."

Colbert, in his faux conservative tone, continued to press the PBS anchor, leading to Lehrer’s claim that the audience is at fault for perceiving bias:

Colbert: "Oh come on, come on now."

Lehrer: "No, no, no. Bias is what people who hear or read the news bring to the story not what the journalist brings to the reporting."

Colbert: "Uh-huh. But doesn't the journalist have to hear the news before he says it back out to someone else?"

Lehrer: "Yes."

Colbert: "I mean you are a channel– I mean, you’re adding some, you know, Jim Lehrer flavor to what you, to what you said. There is no way to avoid that."

Lehrer: "Well, but it is a flavor of neutrality."

Colbert: "Oh, that sounds delicious! That– That should be the new ad campaign: ‘Jim Lehrer, the flavor of neutrality.’"

Despite his claims of being free of bias, the MRC has noted some "liberally flavored" leanings, including the softball style of his 2000 interview with presidential candidate Al Gore and his handling of the debates between Bush and Gore. An analysis by the MRC found that, as moderator of a "town hall" debate, he chose mostly liberal questions. And, during the 2004 Republican convention, Lehrer followed a GOP tribute to the late Ronald Reagan by blaming the deficits on the former President’s tax cuts.

Mr. Lehrer, however, would likely label these examples as simply the problem of faulty viewing.

A transcript of the relevant section, which aired at 11:50p.m. on November 27, follows:

Stephen Colbert: "Now, I gotta say, um, seem like a nice guy, I like your reporting. I love the fact that you don't vote. That is very famous, right? You don't vote?"

Jim Lehrer: "Well, yes, and no. Sometimes--"

Colbert: "Yes or no? What-".

Lehrer: "Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t."

Colbert: "You just don't tell people?"

Lehrer: "That's right. It is none of their business. Is that a problem?"

Colbert: "All right. No, that’s fine. No--"

Lehrer: "If it’s a problem--"

Colbert: "No. If you want to be wishy washy about that, but whether or not you vote--"

Lehrer: "I'm wishy washy for a living, sir."

Colbert: "I want to talk to you about that. You call yourself the middle of the road. You are very moderate in your reporting. How do we know what is important in a newscast if you’re not yelling at your guests? I have never heard you yell at a guest. And that makes me very suspicious of whether or not you mean what you say."

Lehrer: "If, by chance, somebody's watching the program some night, not this program but the News Hour and--".

Colbert: "If, by chance."

Lehrer: "If by chance, and I ask somebody a question and they give the answer and then I say, ‘liar!’"

Colbert: (Laughing) "Your ratings would go through the roof. They'll say, ‘Jim Lehrer has lost his mind.’"

Lehrer: "Exactly. But, you see, I'm not into those cheap tricks. I wouldn't do anything like that."

Colbert: "Oh, okay. Okay. Yeah. No, you’re PBS, you're above that.

Lehrer: "Absolutely.

Colbert: "Don't have to worry about ratings!"

Lehrer: "No, no, we don't care if anybody watches us or not."

Colbert: "That's good, that's good."

Lehrer: "That's good. It keeps us low key, sir."

Colbert: "Uh-huh. Now, um, do you believe that you have a liberal bias?"

Lehrer: "I know I do not have a liberal bias."

Colbert: "You know you have a liberal bias?"

Lehrer: "No. I do not have a liberal bias. I do not have--"

Colbert: "You don't have a liberal bias."

Lehrer: "I don't have a conservative bias either. I don't have any bias. I am bias-free."

Colbert: "Okay. So you’re like a manila envelope. There is no inherent flavor in the way you report the news. It is just information. But doesn't information itself have a liberal bias?"

Lehrer: "No."

Colbert: "Oh come on, come on now."

Lehrer: "No, no, no. Bias is what people who hear or read the news bring to the story not what the journalist brings to the reporting."

Colbert: "Uh-huh. But doesn't the journalist have to hear the news before he says it back out to someone else?"

Lehrer: "Yes."

Colbert: "I mean you are a channel– I mean, you’re adding some, you know, Jim Lehrer flavor to what you, to what you said. There is no way to avoid that."

Lehrer: "Well, but it is a flavor of neutrality."

Colbert: "Oh, that sounds delicious! That– That should be the new ad campaign: ‘Jim Lehrer, the flavor of neutrality.’"

Lehrer: "There is another element to this though."

Colbert: "Oh, it gets spicier. What is the other element?"

Lehrer: "All right. For instance, you have an obligation every evening, five nights a week, to be serious and funny. I have an obligation five nights it to a week to be serious and boring."

Colbert: "Mission accomplished!"

Lehrer: "Exactly. And you know something, you can make fun of me all you want."

Colbert: "I will."

Lehrer: "But it takes a lot of courage to be boring five nights a week. It really does."

Colbert: "You– You might be the bravest man alive."

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org