PBS’s Judy Woodruff, Jim Lehrer reflect on prior presidential races

Jim Lehrer and Judy Woodruff were at the helm of PBS’s 2008 convention coverage. They have covered conventions for nearly four decades and remember them all with fondness.

Lehrer v. Woodruff

Conventions attended:

Lehrer: All of them since ’68.

Woodruff: I covered the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami. I was just a child. I had only been a reporter for a year or so but I was covering politics and they sent me after much pleading. I was working for a CBS affiliate in Atlanta. I didn’t have press credentials. I basically stood on the outside and interviewed people going into the convention.

Favorite convention:

Lehrer: No, no, no, I’ve enjoyed them all. They’re magic, meaningful events for me.

Woodruff: I have to say maybe the conventions in 1992, New York and then Houston. The news was all about Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push Another VPOTUS tries for POTUS: What does history tell us? Barr says he's working to protect presidency, not Trump MORE and his having fought his way to the nomination. At that point he still had some competition leading right up to the convention from Jerry Brown. That same year George H.W. Bush was fighting for reelection. It was just a great political story in both parties. I just have real clear memories of there being high energy at both conventions.

Convention memory that means the most to you:

Lehrer: There have been all kinds of events, great speeches. I think probably Barbara Jordon’s speech in 1976 where she gave the keynote address. Superb. I remember being moved as was everyone else.

Woodruff: I would agree with Jim. That’s a good one.

Wackiest convention memory:

Lehrer: I interviewed then-President George H.W. Bush at the Houston convention in 1992. He was running for reelection. I interviewed him in his hotel room. I did a long interview with him. The convention had already begun. I had to ask him some routine questions. I thought they were routine. He said offhandedly, we may want to look at some of these folks, those involved in the economy. No news was made. We ran the tape that night. It made banner headlines. What he basically said was that he was going to get rid of his economic advisers, but I was so dumb I didn’t even know. It was a slow news day at the convention. I felt like an idiot.

Woodruff: I was thinking back to the Republican convention in 1980. Everybody was trying to figure out who Ronald Reagan was going to name as his running mate. The news broke that he was naming George H.W. Bush. I was in what they call the perimeter of the convention center. I remember running into [former Nevada Sen.] Paul Laxalt, and he was moving quickly with some of his aides along the way. I started to approach him to ask him, What do you think about this? and clearly, [Bush] was not his first choice. He didn’t physically push me away, but he brushed me off. It was not something he wanted to talk about. I remember it vividly because it was a day where people were excited. He was fresh off the information and it wasn’t what he wanted, but he couldn’t get away fast enough.

Interview you will never forget:

Lehrer: That was the interview I did with Bill Clinton the day the story broke about his having a sexual relationship with an intern. It was the first interview he did and it was a big deal. He denied it [the affair]. And he used the present tense a couple of times.

[Did you think he was he lying? ]

{mospagebreak}Lehrer: Oh, I don’t know. I was not sure what he was doing. For me, it was huge to have that first interview.

Woodruff: Barbara Bush in 1992 at the Republican Convention in Houston. I was with the “NewsHour” then. It was a day when the Houston Chronicle had come out with a lead editorial that was critical of her husband. I think it was a tough day for her because the convention wasn’t going as smoothly. She was not particularly happy to be there. At one point she challenged me: Did you ask these kinds of questions of Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNevada Senate passes bill that would give Electoral College votes to winner of national popular vote 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests Iowa Democrats brace for caucus turnout surge MORE at the Democratic Convention? And of course, I had.

Favorite colors to wear on TV:

Lehrer: I always wear blue shirts and I like wine or purple ties.

Woodruff: Red.

Most cherished item of clothing:

Lehrer: I have an old sport coat that’s 15 years old. It’s got squares and things, it’s got wine and gray and black. It’s wool.

Woodruff: I have a suit I love. It’s sort of eggshell colored.

Interview technique of choice:

Lehrer: There’s only one interview technique that matters … Do your homework so you can listen to the answers and react to them and ask follow-ups. Do your homework, prepare. …

Woodruff: Just to ask the questions that I think are on people’s minds. Just to be as straightforward as possible and to ask what I think I’m curious about, what the viewers are curious about. Play it straight.


Lehrer: 5-foot-9

Woodruff: 5-foot-6 1/2


Lehrer: 160 pounds

Woodruff: 111 pounds


Lehrer: 1934, Wichita, Kan.

Woodruff: 1946, Tulsa, Okla.


Lehrer: Victoria College, a junior college in South Texas; University of Missouri at Columbia.

Woodruff: Duke University

Philosophy you try to live by:

Lehrer: Treat people the same way I would want to be treated.

Woodruff: Try to find something good in every day and keep going when something happens that is discouraging or where you feel you’ve been let down or you’ve let yourself down. Keep going. Don’t ever let ’em get you down. Someone said, Nobody every succeeded who didn’t try. You have to keep trying.

First job in journalism:

Lehrer: An obituary writer, Dallas Morning News

Woodruff: Secretary for the ABC affiliate in Atlanta.

Event or moment that best prepared you for covering politics?

Lehrer: Covering the criminal courts for five years in Dallas, where I learned that things are always at stake when people go into a courtroom and people always have differing views of what they saw. Once having learned that, it applies to covering politics as well. No two people see things the same way.

Woodruff: Probably growing up as an Army brat and moving all over the world and having to get used to different situations and meeting people. In politics you have to be able to talk to people.

TV news correspondent you admire most:

Lehrer: There are too many for me to pick one. That’s called the dodge.

Woodruff: Jim Lehrer.

Funniest on-air gaffe:

Lehrer: Most of the gaffes I’ve made have not been funny — they’ve been stupid. There’s no gaffe that I have [made] that is not embarrassing and dumb. I try to put them all out of my mind.

Woodruff: Probably when I fell asleep doing an interview once. It was some obscure person. I did doze off. It was one of those small naps during a long answer.

What you hope people will think while watching you:

Lehrer: I hope that they will think this really matters, because it does. This is the time when people come to grips with who are these people, the Democrats, the Republicans; who are these people, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHarris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers North Korean media rips Biden: a 'fool of low IQ' Lessons from Australia: Voters put pocketbooks over climate change, again MORE and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE?

Woodruff: I hope they’ll think about the story I’m covering and not me.


Lehrer: I collect bus memorabilia. [That’s not a vice.] Don’t have any. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink to excess, I don’t take drugs, I don’t gamble.

Woodruff: Oh, procrastination.