Jim Lehrer

  • Aired:  09/13/11
  •  | Views: 47,138

PBS's Jim Lehrer draws on his experience as a moderator of presidential debates and discusses the impact of television on elections. (6:53)

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE).

>> Jon: WELCOME BACK.

MY GUEST TONIGHT, THE EXECUTIVE

EDITOR AND ANCHOR OF PBS

NEWSHOUR, HIS NEW BOOK IS CALLED

"TENSION CITY: INSIDE THE

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES FROM

KENNEDY, NIXON TO OBAMA/

OBAMA/McCAIN."

WELCOME BACK TO THE PROGRAM JIM

LEHRER.

SIR.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

VERY NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN.

>> GOOD TO SEE YOU, SIR.

>> Jon: HOW ARE YOU?

THE BOOK IS CALLED "TENSION

CITY" AND HOW MUCH OF A DONATION

DO I HAVE TO MAKE TO GET THIS

NCLUDED IN TOTE BAG FROM PBS?I

>> $25 IN PENNIES.

>> Jon: NICE.

MAKE THEM COUNT IT.

YOU HAVE MODERATED HOW MANY

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES?

>> 11.

>> Jon: INCREDIBLE.

WILL YOU... HAVE YOU SEEN IT

SINCE WHEN YOU STARTED WHAT HAS

BEEN THE GREATEST CHANGE THAT

YOU HAVE SEEN IN THE EVOLUTION

OF THESE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES?

>> WELL, THERE'S SOME FORMAT

CHANGES.

WHEN THEY FIRST STARTED YOU'D

HAVE A MODERATOR AND YOU'D HAVE

THREE JOURNALIST PANELS AND NOW

IT'S DOWN... WE'VE GONE THROUGH

SEVERAL TRANSFORMATIONS.

NOW WE'RE DOWN TO BASICALLY A

SOLE MODERATOR FORMAT.

ONE PERSON WITH ALL THE DINE

MATE IN ONE PERSON'S HANDS.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

AND NOW THEY DO THESE YOUTUBE

DEBATES.

PRETTY SOON THEY'LL JUST TAKE

TWITTER QUESTIONS, NOBODY WILL

EVEN BE THERE.

(LAUGHTER)

>> YOU'RE EXACTLY RIGHT.

THE OTHER BIG CHANGE WAS THE

COMING OF THE "TOWN HALL"

PUTTING PEOPLE IN AN AUDIENCE

AND A LOT OF... CHOSEN PEOPLE

AND SOME OF THEM ARE NOT...

>> Jon: JUST JEWS?

(LAUGHTER)

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE.

>> A DIFFERENT CHOOSER.

AND A DIFFERENT CHOOSER FOR

EVERY DEBATE.

LIKE THE ONE YOU'VE BEEN TALKING

ABOUT LAST NIGHT, THAT WAS...

THOSE... THAT AUDIENCE WAS DRAWN

FROM THE TEA PARTY MEMBERSHIP.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

>> LIKE THE ONE BEFORE THAT NBC

DID AT SIMI VALLEY, IT WAS THE

REAGAN LIBRARY AND WAS CHOSEN BY

THE PEOPLE WHO ARE IN THAT PART

OF THE WORD AND WHO IN THAT PART

OF THE WORLD POLITICALLY.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

>> BUT THE NATIONALLY TELEVISED

PRESIDENTIAL AND VICE

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE RUN BY THE

COMMISSION AND THEY ARE...

THERE'S STRICT RULES.

THERE'S NO HOLLERING, NO

SHOUTING, NONE OF THIS STUFF.

>> Jon: RIGHT.

>> BECAUSE IT'S ALL DONE FOR THE

AUDIENCE, IT'S NOT DONE... I

MEAN FOR THE TELEVISION

AUDIENCE, NOT FOR THE FOLKS

THERE.

THEY'RE NOT RALLIES.

>> Jon: WHAT ARE THE

NEGOTIATIONS LIKE AMONGST THE

CANDIDATES CAMPS?

BECAUSE OFF STORY ABOUT HOW YOU

GUYS... YOU WERE HAVING A

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE, YOU DECIDED

ON THE FORMAT AND PETER JENNINGS

SAID "I'VE GOTTEN A IDEA, LET'S

THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND AND

MAKE THESE GUYS TALK TO EACH

OTHER" AND EVERYBODY WAS LIKE

"WE CAN'T DO THAT!"

>> WELL, MY... I HAD A VERY

SELF-RIGHTEOUS VIEW OF THAT AND

I TALKED PETER JENNINGS OUT OF

THAT ON THE GROUNDS THAT, LOOK,

WE AGREED TO MODERATE UNDER

THESE RULES AND I'VE GOTTEN A

OBLIGATION.

AND IF FOR SOME REASON THE

CANDIDATES AND DEBATE COMMISSION

AGREE LET'S HAVE A DEBATE WHERE

THERE ARE NO RULES, THAT'S FINE.

AND WE'D DONE THAT A COUPLE

TIMES.

I DID ONE IN '92 WITH GEORGE

H.W. BUSH, BILL CLINTON AND ROSS

PEROT FOR 45 MINUTES, ONE HALF

OF A 90-MINUTE DEBATE WHERE IT

WAS JUST ME AND THOSE THREE

CANDIDATES WITH VERY FEW RULES,

NO ONE MINUTE, TWO MINUTE,

WHATEVER.

THAT WAS SCARY.

REALLY SCARY AND TU BUT

EXHILARATING AND IT DID WORK.

UNFORTUNATELY, IT WORKED WELL

BUT IT'S NEVER BEEN TRIED AGAIN

BECAUSE THE CANDIDATES AND THEIR

HANDLERS ARE AFRAID...

>> Jon: THAT'S WHAT I WAS

GOING TO SAY.

THEY DON'T WANT TO TAKE A RISK.

>> Jon: IN RETROSPECT, A LOT

OF THE PARTICIPANTS TALK ABOUT

THE DEBATES, WHILE THEY DIDN'T

LIKE THEM AND WHILE THEY HAD TO

MANAGE THEM, THEY FELT MADE THEM

EITHER STRONGER CANDIDATES OR IN

PRESIDENT CLINTON'S CASE A

STRONGER PRESIDENT.

THEY FELT IT WAS AN EXERCISE IN

THINKING ABOUT SCENARIOS YOU

WOULDN'T NORMALLY THINK ABOUT.

>> EXACTLY RIGHT.

CLINTON FELT THAT VERY STRONGLY

BECAUSE IT FORCED HIM... HE SAYS

IT FORCES ALL THE CANDIDATES,

OKAY, WHAT IS MY POSITION ON

SOCIAL SECURITY OR ON WHETHER OR

NOT... WHAT...

>> Jon: I LOVE THAT.

I LOVE THAT.

THEY'VE GOT A HANDLER AND

THEY'RE LIKE "YES, TELL ME, WHAT

IS MY POSITION ONS IS?

BECAUSE WHEN I THINK ABOUT IT IN

MY HEAD I SOUND INCOHERENT."

(LAUGHTER)

>> WELL, BUT SEE WHAT HAPPENS,

THEY SAY, OKAY, WELL, NOW WE'VE

HEARD YOU SAY WHAT YOUR POSITION

IS.

YOU CAN'T SAY THAT BECAUSE

THAT'S THE THIRD RAIL POSITION

AND THEY'LL TALK ABOUT THAT AND

THAT'S ALL THEY'LL TALK ABOUT.

SO ROUND IT A LITTLE BIT.

>> Jon: THAT'S CHANGED A LOT.

THE FIRST ONE YOU DEAL WITH

NIXON/KENNEDY.

AND THE REAL TAKEAWAY FROM

NIXON/KENNEDY IS TELEVISION IS

THE GAME CHANGER BECAUSE YOU

WRITE IN THERE NIXON HAD COME

FROM THE HOSPITAL, DIDN'T WANT

ANY MAKEUP KENNEDY HAD A

DISEASE, ADDISON'S DISEASE BUT

THAT MADE HIM LOOK MORE TAN.

SO HE GOES OUT THERE AND IF YOU

WATCH IT ON TELEVISION THEY'RE

LIKE "OH, I LIKE THE CUT OF HIS

JIB."

IF YOU LISTEN TO IT ON RADIO

YOU'RE LIKE "THAT GUY GOT

CREAMED."

>> EXACTLY.

IT CHANGED EVERYTHING AND, IN

FACT, NIXON HIMSELF SAID IN HIS

AUTOBIOGRAPHY I SPENT TOO MUCH

TIME WORRYING ABOUT WHAT I WAS

GOING TO SAY AND NOT WHAT I

LOOKED LIKE.

AND I SAID IN THE BOOK AND I

REALLY BELIEVE THIS THAT

CANDIDATES WHO DON'T PAY

ATTENTION TO WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE

OR WHAT THEY... THEIR BODY

LANGUAGE AS WELL AS THEIR SPOKEN

LANGUAGE ARE MAKING A TERRIBLE

MISTAKE BECAUSE PEOPLE WATCH

THESE DEBATES.

REMEMBER THESE NATIONALLY

TELEVISED DEBATES AT THE END ARE

USUALLY IN LATE SEPTEMBER, EARLY

OCTOBER.

90% OR MORE OF THE FOLKS HAVE

PRETTY MUCH MADE UP THEIR MIND

FOR WHOM THEY'RE GOING TO VOTE

OR ARE LEANING AND SO WHAT

EVERYBODY'S DOING IS TAKING THE

MEASURE OF THESE INDIVIDUALS

TO... CAN I SEE THIS PERSON

SITTING BEHIND THE DESK IN THE

OVAL OFFICE?

HOW WOULD HE OR SHE REACT IF

THERE WAS ANOTHER KATRINA AND

ALL OF THAT?

DO I LIKE THIS PERSON?

AND YOU SEE THEM RIGHTING TO AND

IT'S MORE ABOUT THAT...

>> Jon: IT'S JUST SUCH A...

TELEVISION MAKES IT SUCH A

FRIGHTENING PROPOSITION BECAUSE

YOU REALLY DO IMAGINE THROUGHOUT

HISTORY LOSING GREAT LEADERS.

PEOPLE ON TELEVISION GOING

"YEAH, LINCOLN, NICE BEARD, NOT

VOTING FOR HIM."

(LAUGHTER)

>> THOMAS JEFFERSON SPOKE (VOICE

UP HIGH)

LIKE THIS.

>> Jon: JAMES MADISON YOU

COULD HAVEN'T SEEN ABOVE THE

PODIUM.

THE GUY WAS LIKE 4 '10.

HISTORY WOULD HAVE BEEN VERY

DIFFERENT.

"TENSION CITY."

A FASCINATING LOOK BEHIND THE

DEBATES FROM NIXON TO OBAMA.

JIM LEHRER.

THANK YOU SO MUCH.

(CHEERS AND

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