Lester M. Crystal photo

Lester M. Crystal

Lester Martin Crystal of Edgemont, founding executive producer of “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” on PBS, died June 24 in New York City. He was 85.

Before joining PBS in 1983 Mr. Crystal was executive producer of the half-hour “NBC Nightly News.” He was among the journalists accompanying President Richard Nixon on his historic trip to China in 1972 and was president of NBC’s News Division from 1977 to 1979.

The move to PBS allowed Mr. Crystal to realize his ambition to produce a nightly program with in-depth coverage of world and national news, major issues, science and the arts. Expanded from the half-hour “MacNeil/Lehrer Report,” the show was co-anchored by Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer for 12 years and then by Lehrer alone until 2011.

Now called the “PBS NewsHour” and anchored by Judy Woodruff, the show provides context and background to headline news. Mr. Crystal remained its executive producer until 2005, when he was appointed president of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. He retired in 2010. 

Paul Solmon, economics reporter on the NewsHour, wrote in a remembrance on the PBS website, “Even-handedness was an article of faith” with Crystal, “never to let lapse. And look, he created the hourlong show — on a shoestring after years of commercial budgets — and set an atmosphere of honesty, accuracy, occasional flights of fancy, and loving thy neighbor unlike any enterprise I’ve ever heard of, much less had the privilege to work in.”

Mr. Crystal was born Sept. 13, 1934, in Duluth, Minnesota, to Isadore and Sara (Davis) Crystal. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 1956 and a master’s degree in 1957. In 1958 he married Toby Lee Wilson, who survives him.

Mr. Crystal began his career writing for a Duluth radio and television station. In 1963 he joined NBC’s Chicago affiliate and in 1965 was named regional manager of “The Huntley-Brinkley Report.” In 1967 he moved to New York to become news editor and eventually producer of “Huntley-Brinkley.”

Mr. Crystal was on the board of the Westchester Community College Foundation where “his wisdom and gentle guidance brought prestige and recognition to the college through his ability to encourage noted luminaries such as Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright to speak on campus,” according to a paid obituary in The New York Times. “He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the foundation, as well as the reputation of the college.”

In addition to his wife, Mr. Crystal is survived by his sons Bradley and Alan, his daughter Elizabeth, three grandchildren and a sister, Elaine Hallfin. Another sister, Dinah Kossoff, predeceased him.

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