“Dean Of Moderators” Jim Lehrer Addresses The Past And Present State Of Journalism At VNA’s Legends And Leaders Luncheon

Despite the do-si-do dance of vehicles vying for entry to the Hilton Anatole on Friday, April 14, around noontime, things were hustling inside the hotel complex. In the Chantilly Ballroom, Amal Clooney was packing the stiletto crowd in for the New Friends New Life Wings Luncheon.

At the opposite end of the building, a large group of hotel guests checked in early for their rooms. Bypassing the folks with luggage were more than 600 local familiar faces heading to the upstairs Imperial Ballroom for the VNA’s Legends and Leaders Luncheon.

Hugh Aynesworth

Hugh Aynesworth

Lottye Brodsky

Lottye Brodsky

As the luncheon guests made their way down the hallway leading to the ballroom, tales of traffic hassles seemed to rumble. So much so, that by 12:06 word was passed that the start time of high noon had been delayed because of “a 30-minute wait outside.”  But once in the ballroom guests doffed off the problems of the day and settled back into catch-up conversations like a college reunion. Perhaps the conviviality was due to the fact that everyone either knew or felt like they knew the day’s “legend” — award-winning veteran journalist Jim Lehrer. Peppered throughout the crowd were Hugh Aynesworth, Caroline Rose Hunt, Bob Brackbill, Debbie Francis, Lyda Hill, Lottye Brodsky, Janie McGarr, Regen Fearon, Ruth Buzzi and husband Kent Perkins, who had made the trek from their Stephenville ranch to Dallas.

Kent Perkins and Caroline Rose Hunt

Kent Perkins and Caroline Rose Hunt

Ruth Buzzi and Bob Brackbill

Ruth Buzzi and Bob Brackbill

Jan and Al McClendon, Kate McClendon and Debbie Francis

Jan and Al McClendon, Kate McClendon and Debbie Francis

By 12:11 an organizer asked if one of the production team could flash the ceiling lights to let folks know that the program was getting ready to start. Only problem was that the Imperial Ballroom lights had been flickering all morning. A member of the Murray Media called over the chap with the chimes and had him play the tune into the mic. Between the light show and the chimes, the room was starting to become a sensory experience. But it worked.

Within a couple of minutes, emcee Scott Sams introduced Rabbi Nancy Kasten who gave the invocation, and lunch was served. For this the house lights were brought up and the conversations ranged from the fact that 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 daily to an Emmitt Smith party the night before. Seems the event had been scheduled to take place in the area surrounding Tony Tasset’s “Eye.” But due to the rain, it was moved across the street to The Joule’s ballroom.

Nancy Kasten

Nancy Kasten

As the ballroom’s ceiling lights flickered like a chorus of lightning bugs, one organizer’s fingers were turning blue because they were crossed so tightly. Seems the issue of the two mega-luncheon events ending at the same time had been addressed weeks earlier. The game plan was to stagger their endings with New Friends New Life finishing first. But there was now a touch of concern that perhaps the NFNL had also delayed their start time. Not to worry, though.

As it was, author/journalist Rena Pederson and Jim didn’t take their places in easy chairs on stage until a little after 1 p.m. for a chat. Before talking about his lengthy career, the 81-year-old reviewed his health experiences that included having a heart attack in 1983, cataract surgery (“I can now read agate print and see from here to the Rocky Mountains”), getting a hearing aid, lifestyles changes (“When traveling, I leave a little earlier. It’s to cut down on the stress”) and aqua jogging.

He then recalled his days in Dallas working at the Dallas Times Herald and The Dallas Morning News, when he worked with then DMN Assistant City Editor Bob Miller, who was in the audience. In remarking about the differences of the days of manual typewriters and today’s high tech, Jim recalled, “Everyone was a writer. We argued about phraseology and who had the best leads.” There was also a competitive spirit between reporters at the two daily papers.

Moving on to his days at KERA, he admitted that he joined the station for “all the wrong reasons.” It seems that he and his wife/novelist Kate Lehrer had agreed that when they had enough money he would quit his job as city editor at the Times Herald. That came about when his first novel “Viva Max” provided him with a landfall of $45,000.

But a call from Robert Wilson changed those plans. When Bobby heard that he was quitting, he asked Jim to be a consultant for KERA’s start-up news program called “Newsroom.” Jim was amazed. He got “paid more for working three days a week than working at the paper.” At that time Jim had been making $82.50 a week, while Kate, who was teaching school, was making $90 a week and got three months off in the summer.

In putting together the team for the local news program, he “hired nothing but newspaper people because that’s all I knew and there was no such thing as TV journalists.”

By 1:17 p.m. Jim was recalling tales of his 37 years at PBS. One memory was his interview scheduled with President Bill Clinton. The morning of the interview, he toddled out to get the morning paper and there was the lead story about the President’s supposedly having had an affair with an intern. Jim’s comment to his wife, “Oh, golly gee, sweetheart.”

While the other national news anchors (Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings) were all in Cuba for the Pope’s visit, Jim had the story of the day. Why, ABC even wanted to air it live!

Despite the fact that “you could hear a pin drop,” the interview took place with Jim asking, “Mr. President, there’s a story in the Washington Post that said you had an improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Is that true?” The President responded, “There is no improper relationship.” Jim prodded. The President stayed with his statement.

Jim admitted that he was pleased with the interview, until Kate reported that their daughter Amanda had called and pointed out that Jim was talking in the past tense and Clinton was responding in present tense. “That’s an interview I’ll never forget.”

Jim Lehrer and Rena Pedersen

Jim Lehrer and Rena Pedersen

Speaking of U.S. Presidents, Rena asked him which had inspired him the most. Jim responded, “Do you think I’m gonna answer that?” Then he added, “I never interviewed one where I walked away thinking that was an accident.”

When asked about the current presidential campaigns, Jim described them as a cross between a “game show, reality TV and second-level pep rallies.”

Having moderated 12 presidential debates, he was disappointed in the lack of civility in the most recent debates, but he admitted that it was still good to see the candidates in a comparative situation.

Regarding the media’s coverage of presidential candidate Donald Trump, he suggested that when Trump started, serious journalists reported it and didn’t take him seriously, but not Lehrer: Trump “was successful as a candidate, so he had to be covered. He said things that were newsworthy. And by then they…by that I mean us…the media were caught.”

Chuckling he admitted that “The media…it sounds like a venereal disease. ‘I’ve got the media.’”

Getting back to the state of Trump and the “media,” Jim said journalism has three sides —

  • reporting,
  • analysis and
  • opinion

In the case of Trump, Jim said the analysis and opinion parts of journalism “raked Trump over the coals. Everything he said was dissected.”

Rena asked Jim (aka the “Dean of Moderators”) if he would moderate any future debates, to which Jim said, “No,” but he was now on the Commission on Presidential Debates.

In closing, Rena asked about Jim’s next book. He opted not to answer, saying, “It’s bad luck to talk about fiction ahead of time.” But with a twinkle in his, he added, “It has to do with a gun.”

By 1:30 p.m. the luncheon was over and the guests left, satisfied that Jim was still a great interview, even if he wasn’t doing the interviewing.

JUST IN: 2016 Wings Luncheon Individual Ticket Sales Nearing An End With Good Reason(s)

Amal Clooney*

Amal Clooney*

Procrastination is definitely going to cause problems for those who wait much longer for tickets to the New Friends New Life2016 Wings Luncheon” on Thursday, April 14, at the Hilton Anatole.
Seems tickets and sponsorships are flying so fast that NFNL Executive Director Katie Pedigo has let it be known that individual tickets will a done deal this Friday.

The reasons for the speedway ticket sales:

  1. Support of NFNL
  2. Chair Jeanne Johnson Phillips
  3. Honorary Co-Chairs Ruth AltshulerLaura Bush, Caren Prothro and Annette Simmons
  4. Speaker Amal Clooney

Pretty darn good reasons, huh? So wait no longer to get your ticket.

* Photo courtesy of New Friends 
New Life

New Friends New Life’s 2016 ProtectHer Awardees Were Revealed At Wings Luncheon Kick-Off Reception

Dadgummit! The wind picked up as the temperatures and rain fell on Tuesday, February 23. Still Mother’s Nature’s pooh-poohs didn’t dissuade New Friends New Life backers like newlyweds Annette Simmons and Jerry Fronterhouse, Carol Seay, Jan Osborn, Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, Caren Prothro, Dallas Police Chief David Brown, Carolyn Miller, Ray Hunt, Wendy Messmann, Joyce and Linus Wright and Sue Bailey.

Annette Simmons and Jerry Fronterhouse

Annette Simmons and Jerry Fronterhouse

Jeanne Johnson Phillips and Carolyn Miller

Jeanne Johnson Phillips and Carolyn Miller

They all gathered at the Bush Center for the official kick off of the Wings Luncheon that’s being chaired by Jeanne Johnson Phillips and benefiting New Friends New Life (NFNL).

It wasn’t your usual kick off. Everyone already knew that the 13th Annual Wings Luncheon keynote speaker would be Amal Clooney on Thursday, April 14, at Hilton Anatole.

No, instead it was the announcement of the ProtectHer Awards that would be presented at the luncheon by the New Friends New Life’s Men’s Advocacy Group Board. Receiving the awards will be

  • Ted Poe and Chris Kleinert

    Ted Poe and Chris Kleinert

    ProtectHer Award (National) — U.S. Sen. (TX.) John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. (TX. 2nd Congressional Dist.) Ted Poe, who sponsored “’The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act,’ that was signed into law on May 29, 2015, to improve law enforcement’s ability to target traffickers and buyers and protect and expand the rights of trafficking victims. The act, which increases criminal fines on convicted traffickers and child predators, will create about $60 million in federal grants that state and local governments can use for more shelter space, specialized court programs and law enforcement programs targeting human trafficking.”

  • Tan Parker, Jeanne John Phillips and Morgan Meyer

    Tan Parker, Jeanne John Phillips and Morgan Meyer

    ProtectHer Award (State) — “The 2015 Texas Legislative Session” accepted by State Rep. (District 108) Morgan Meyer and State Rep. (District 63) Tan Parker, who both have daughters and took active roles in the passing of 20 bills that would move Texas closer to a “no tolerance zone” for those exploiting women and children.

  • Katie Pedigo and Libby Spears

    Katie Pedigo and Libby Spears

    ProtectHer Award (Local) — Playground Curriculum’s Libby Spears, who wrote and directed “Playground” (2009) dealing with the child sex trade and produced by George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh and Abigail Disney (granddaughter of the late The Walt Disney Company Co-Founder Roy Disney).

As NFNL CEO Katie Pedigo told the group, “Human trafficking is not in a vacuum.” And it’s not going to be in this city, this state, the country, if NFNL has its way.

Following the announcement and acceptance speeches by all including John Cornyn via video, Nancy Ann Hunt thanked all for joining the movement to end human trafficking. Afterward, Nancy Ann admitted frustration that the effort had taken so long. But realizing that the issue was an age-old problem, she acknowledged that NFNL’s work was indeed paying off.

JUST IN: New Friends New Life’s 13th Annual Wings Luncheon’s Keynote Speaker Will Be The Amazing Amal Clooney

Well, hold on to your whatevers. Ah, shoot! Don’t bother. Just stop reading and start making plans for the New Friends New Life’s 13th Annual Wings Luncheon at the Hilton Anatole.

It will be held on Thursday, April 14, and the keynote speaker will be an “internationally known attorney and human right activist” who [shares the] “nonprofit’s passion to protest women and children, combat human trafficking and provide healing and hope.”

Nope. It’s not the late Mother Teresa. It’s a woman who is brilliant, beautiful and the bride of George Clooney.

Yup! The keynote speaker will be Amal Clooney. Somehow, despite her being married to the man-oh-man of the 21st century, she has made a name all-on-her-own for making a difference for good on an international stage.

In addition to landing George, she’s a “Lebanese-British barrister, human rights activist, philanthropist and author…. Her recent wok as of 2015 has been in the field of advocating for the protection of women against physical and sexual violence in combat zones.”

According to New Friends New Life Chief Executive Officer Katie Pedigo, “New Friends New Life is elated to bring Clooney to Dallas for so many reasons. She shares the organization’s passion to help women and children escape physical and sexual abuse, and her perspective, insight and international acclaim, along with her wide appeal to the public, will help us create an even greater awareness of this worldwide epidemic.   Without question, this will enable us to raise more dollars to combat human trafficking in the Dallas area and throughout our state and nation.”

Serving as luncheon chair for the second year in a row will be the Honorable Jeanne Johnson Phillips with former First Lady Laura Bush and Ruth Altshuler serving as honorary co-chairs. Joining Laura and Ruth as honorary co-chairs will be Nancy Ann Hunt, Caren Prothro and Annette Simmons.

According to blonde Jeanne, “As a human rights activist on a global scale, Amal Clooney is a perfect voice to advocate against a crime that is happening in our own backyard. The subject of sex trafficking and the sex industry as a whole were rarely spoken of just a few years ago, but thanks to the incredible work of organizations like New Friends New Life and a corporate community that is willing to step forward with funding, we are making huge strides to end human trafficking in Dallas and throughout Texas and empower its survivors. Clooney’s knowledge, experience, and presentation will help us educate the community and send a strong message that Dallas is a no tolerance zone for human trafficking as we strive to protect our children, an estimated 400 teens on the streets each night – the most vulnerable targets of human traffickers.”

Let’s stop posting about this one because it’s gonna a quickie sell-out. Unfortunately, we got the information before they even got an online spot to buy tickets. But you can start putting this baby in the budget. As soon as the link for tickets is in place, we’ll let you know.

In the meantime, why not cozy up with the NFNL types by attending the 2015 Home Tour. Amal may not be there, but you’ll be supporting her local cause.