In 1963, I worked as a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Jim Lehrer worked at the Dallas Times Herald, and we both covered the Kennedy assassination–but it was only after we came to Washington, D.C., that we became good friends. Jim, who died Jan. 23 at 85, was a guy I always looked up to.
So when I was chosen to moderate my first presidential debate in 2004, he was the first person I called. I said, “How do I do this?” and he said, “Remember, it’s not about you.” That was the best advice anybody could possibly give me, and for every other person down through the years who called me to ask for advice on how to moderate a presidential debate, I told them the same.
The integrity and the objectivity he displayed had set the tone for those debates–not just one but all of them. Jim had great respect for his viewers and for his readers; he thought they should be allowed to make up their minds, and he didn’t try to push his views. He just asked the questions, and he always did his homework. That sometimes is a little rare these days, but I still think that’s what reporters are supposed to do. I mean this literally: he was the most objective person I have ever dealt with. And what you saw on television was exactly what you’d see if you ran into Jim in the grocery store. He was a real person. Sometimes people you see on TV aren’t. We don’t run around telling people that, but we all know–and he was the real deal.
Schieffer, a veteran CBS News reporter, was an anchor of Face the Nation for 24 years
This appears in the February 10, 2020 issue of TIME.