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tv   After Words Jim Lehrer Tension City hosted by Gloria Borger  CSPAN  January 25, 2020 7:01pm-8:02pm EST

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♪ >> c-span, your unfiltered view of government. crated by cable in 1979, and brought to you today by your television provider. announcer: jim lehrer the cofounder and longtime anchor of vs news has died. according to a statement from pbs he died , peacefully in his sleep at home in washington, d.c.. he was 85 years old. in 2011, he appeared on c-span's afterwards program to talk about his book, televised debates from -- tension city, which chronicles televised presidential debates from kennedy-nixon to obama -mccain. welcome to afterwards. editor is the executive of the newshour, jim lehrer.
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who has just written a fabulous "tension city" my view from the middle seat. it is all about the presidential debates. we watch the presidential debates, some of us covered the presidential debates. but you are the only person i know who has moderated 11 debates alone. you are the man in the middle seat at the center at that stage. you have written fiction about these debates, but have never really told us what it is like to be in the middle of it. why did you decide to write a nonfiction book about debates? jim: i thought it was time to do it. i felt that 2008, i did one of the obama-mccain debates, i knew this was going to be my last
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presidential debate. so i decided to collect my i had some things i wanted to say that would be hard to say if i was still about to do another debate or whatever, so not that i had anything, any scores to settle, but i thought it was time to share it. i believe so strongly in the importance of these debates. i wanted to share my feelings about the importance and some of the nitty-gritty that i think is part and parcel and needs to be to be handled well. gloria: talk to me about why they have become such an important part of the presidential process. it wasn't always that way. we seem to think it was, but not always. jim: here is what has happened,
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the presidential debates have become the only times during a presidential campaign where the candidates, two or three, are on the same stage at the same time talking about the same things. they come usually in october, with the election pretty close, maybe a month or less away. the polls show that in 90% or more of the people have made a decision as to for whom they're going to vote. but that decision, some of them are leaning, some that they're not, but the issues are on the table and people have decided whether they're in favor of lockboxes for social security or whatever, or debt ceilings all those decisions have been
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, made by the voters. do i like this person? issues are, what if there is a crisis something , similar to katrina, 9/11, some major catastrophe or crisis happens? how do you feel about this person? that is why it is important. gloria: it is interesting come you call the book "tension city". these candidates have to make people like them, essentially, is what you're saying. you spoke with bush 41, george hw bush, who said to you that the debates are ugly, i don't like them. why did he say that? jim: he felt, feels very strongly it is all show business. there was a three-person debate with bill clinton and ross perot when he looked at his watch, famous moment, and he said so i
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looked at my watch and they are all over me. that doesn't have anything to do with issues or whatever, but he said, well, i said, why were you looking at your watch? he said i was looking at my watch was this thing was going -- i was looking at my watch to see when this thing was going to be over. those kinds of things to the audience, it leaves an impression. it is a language impression, but it is a body language impression, rather than a spoken word impression. from georgie w bush's point of view, he thinks ridiculous to have so much riding on these two to 390-minute exchanges in a presidential debate. gloria: his son feels that exactly the opposite. jim: he thinks it's terrific. he and bill clinton set the same thing in different words, that they feel it makes them better
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candidates, better presidents. because it forces them, finally in those last few weeks before the election, to be able to not only decide what they really believe, but to be able to articulate it. they see it all in a positive way, george w. bush and bill clinton. gloria: you wrote "each participant remembers the debate performance through the prism, emotional as well as political." is there any debate performance that sticks out in your mind? where you are sitting. sticks out in your mind? jim: sure, sure. one of the problems by sitting so close, and remember, it is all about television. this is for the millions and millions of people who are watching on television. it is not a studio program. this isn't a pep rally for the opposing candidates, and not even an interview program.
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the purpose of the debate is not to show how terrific the moderator is, how much i know, exactly, how quick he or she is responding and all of that. for instance, to answer your question specifically, the one i remember more than any other was the first al gore-bush debate in boston 2000. i was sitting where i am now and bush was to my right, and gore was to my left. i have a rule that was, and i would suggest this to anybody who moderates any debate, keep your eye on the person who's talking, not the person reacting. because if you watched the person reacting, you can distort the reaction. at any rate, to make a long
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story short, i would ask the question of bush, and bush would be giving an answer, and al gore started sighing remember that, , he kept going like that. well, that hurt him terribly, because the public saw that in split screen coverage, but when it was all over, i'm walking down the hall with my family and one of my daughter says, dad, that was incredible what al gore did. i stopped and i said what did al , gore do? she mentioned about the the sighing and grimacing and all that. i didn't see any of that. people who listen that on the radio thought al gore was the debate. people who watched on television -- kennedy-nixon, exactly the same parallel. -- gore won the debate. gloria: you made an interesting point about your role as a moderator.
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we see you on the news hour all the time as an interviewer, and i would love you to talk more about the difference between the role of the interviewer we see you as on the news hour, trying to make some news, get some news, versus the role of the person sitting in that little seat in a -- that middle seat in a , presidential debate. it is the distinction that people need to understand. jim: i agree. i see them as two different functions. let's say you have candidate a and candidate be on the news hour, and i was running a discussion, i would follow-up, introduce new subjects. say, hey, what you thing about this? but in a presidential debate, i also have my own little patterns i have developed. i make the decision right there that i'm not going to introduce a whole new subject out of the
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blue at a presidential debate. this campaign has been going on for a year or more, the public has heard all this, and it would be very easy to sit there in front of 90 million people and ask some question off the wall, embarrass the candidates, but for what points for what , purpose? that is number one rule. the other rule is you have to make sure that everything is perceived as being absolutely 100% fair. it doesn't mean it has to be fair. it has to be perceived as fair. you can run a discussion on a regular television news broadcasts like the news hour and everything the clock is this , and the timing is right, and whatever, but if for some reason you weren't perceived as being fair to ideas and to the people, you can blow the whole deal.
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with a presidential debate, it is always, i always have to remind myself, and i do this all the time, this is not about me. gloria: right. jim: i already have the best job in television journalism. i'm not auditioning for a job. i'm not running for anything. if people are talking about it -- if people are talking about my question, even favorably, when it is over, i felt. because it it is about the is not about me answers. , to facilitate the exchange among or between the candidates, not me and them. it is all a state of mind. gloria: you have to kind of change your muscle memory to a certain degree. jim: exactly, exactly. you have to know why you are there. if you know why you are there and you made a decision to stay with that, it is not difficult. if you are fighting it all the time - it would be very easy, and i say this in the book, it would be easy for some moderator, in particular the way it is now,
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a single-moderator format, you could drop hand grenades right and left. you can make a name for yourself everybody will be talking about billy bob the great moderator and how they really leveled the candidate and all that stuff, , and it is a temptation that must be overcome by everybody involved. gloria: so this leads me to - before you did the single moderating, there were group panels. jim: right. gloria: there is a famous question bernie shaw of cnn asked, which is now referred to in your book as the killer question. you are quoting somebody who referred to it. they called it the killer question. can you talk about what that was? jim: the exact words, i can't quote off the top of my head, but essentially, the first question in the debate, number one question, he said governor, to
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dukakis, and this was in 1988 against george hw bush, and he said, governor, if kitty dukakis were raped and murdered, would you be in favor of the death penalty for the perpetrator? dukakis - take it one step at a time, that was the question bernie shaw decided to ask, and at that time, there was a moderator and three panelists. they had a meeting, the three answer bernie, the day of the debate. they went over their questions and how they were going to do things and whatever -- it is a long, involved story, but the three other panelists, margaret warner was with newsweek, of course now with the pbs newshour,
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andrea mitchell with nbc, and ann compton who was at abc news, the three panelists, the three women said the bernie, wait a minute, we -- rethink that question. try to talk about of it. or at least do not use her name. bernie was adamant. and he asked the question. and just doing some reporting about the meeting and how it came about, i discovered there were hard feelings that exist to this day about the fact that these three panelists tried to talk him out of the question the -- the question first place, and there was back talk about whether somebody knowing the
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question beforehand. at any rate, i tell you what, it's a good lesson for all of us journalists, including the two of us. all the frailties of humankind exist among journalists as they do among politicians, lawyers, preachers, and everybody else. in this case, i believe there was an honest disagreement over what each one heard and believed. there weren't any good guys or bad guys here. it's just a reminder that we can all see things differently. gloria: it's interesting, because you write that michael dukakis did not seem to object to the question. afterwards. but viewers did look at it and said it told them something about michael dukakis. jim: that's the double-edged sword. dukakis'answer was that he was always opposed to capital punishment and he gave a little
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at the on capital punishment. everybody was expecting some kind of emotional -- by god, they're talking about killing my wife. he did not see it that way and he did not react that way, and it hurt him terribly. book,t, i say this in the the late david broder was the political editor of the washington post, said to and compton after that, the election is over. there was no way dukakis would come back from that. and it turned out, do talk is himself -- dukakis himself. i asked him about this and he said everybody makes mistakes. i watched the tape again, he said, and i did not think it was that bad. inid it in context, we had talking about capital punishment and have been
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talking about it all my professional political life. it just seemed like i give a routine answer and missed the emotional thing. george w. bush said that if he had been asked that question, he what have screamed that i would have grabbed that guy and killed him with my bare hands. gloria: and kitty dukakis as sitting in the audience when this happens. jim: there was a huge sigh in the audience and everybody felt the same way. but that's why it's a double edged sword. a lot of people criticize bernie shaw for asking the question. however, it revealed a lot about michael dukakis. if dukakis had reacted differently, i don't know if it would've changed the election but it would have changed the perception of the man. gloria: it is also one of those questions. these candidates go
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through huge amounts of prep work for the debates. there's no way that one of his advisors would have said what if somebody asks you this? so he could have prepared a canned answer for it. there are a lot of canned answers you hear. jim: they work on those. gloria: that leads me to one in the benson-quail vice presidential debate. lloyd benson came up with one of the lines we will remember for all time. dan quail mentioned jack kennedy, as he had on the campaign trail. there is some dispute about whether it was a prepared line. and he said, i knew jack kennedy
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and you're are no jack kennedy. it certainly sounded like jim: one. it did to me. unfortunately i was not able to talk to lloyd benson. but in public statements he made to reporters after the debate, he said it just came to me. however, some of the folks around benson said they had heard him before. that hurt quell say that about john f. kennedy before, the expense thing. that was that quail had more experience in congress in government. than john f. kennedy did when he was elected president. and so they were ready for this. i think we just have to leave it to two different views of what happened. gloria: talk a little bit about the negotiations -- and i know you are not a part of them. but you clearly know about them. the candidates don't just show up at the podium to get ready to debate. it is a grueling process that
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their campaigns go through. like peace talks. jim: absolutely. the thing everybody has to remember is that the negotiations are by two groups of people with only one purpose. that is to make his or her candidate have an advantage over the other candidate. everybody on the other side is doing the same thing for his or her candidate. they could not care less about whether or not this is fair or this or that. if they think it will help the candidate, we will negotiate best we can to have the debate seated. if our guy is too short compared to the others. dukakis,ork-four
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against george h bush a tall man, michael dukakis not so tall. they lifted the space right behind the podium -- so michael dukakis would not look as short compared to george h debbie bus and that was negotiated. one of the candidates some of , the candidates sweat more than others. the people who sweat always want the temperature to be 30 degrees. they negotiate the temperature. and it is all, for instance the formats. i remember the bob dole negotiations. bob dole is a man who talked in bursts. one-liners. he never talked for more than two and a half minutes. so his negotiators were willing to give up anything to have the answers no more than two minutes long. and of course, against bill
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clinton, bill clinton could talk for two hours on any given question. so in order to get that, clinton also wanted a town hall thing. so they swapped their negotiators swapped. dole got what he wanted, which was short answers and some of the debates, in exchange for clinton's people getting what clinton wanted, which was a town hall debate for the first time. everything about what the size of the holding rooms are is negotiated. gloria: including the moderator. jim: absolutely. gloria: as you posit, that may be why they ended up on a single moderator because they could not agree on anybody other than you. [laughter] jim: it's not false modesty, it's just the truth. a couple of times i ended up because theybates
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could not agree on anybody else. gloria: because politically this person had said some things. jim: yes or because they were looking for an advantage. one side thought this would be a disadvantage for whatever reason. it doesn't have to be legitimate. it's almost like in a jury. dire thing. in my case, there were fewer objections to me. gloria: how do you prepare? you are now the single moderator and this is a great weight on your shoulders. how do you wall yourself off and
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figure out what it is you are going after? -- you're going to ask? there may be a foreign policy debate, there may be a domestic polity debate. or a town hall, which is a different format. how do you sit there and say what are the questions the people in the united states need to hear about? jim: you've got, that's what it's all about. fortunately working with my , colleagues in the news hour, who are terrific professionals i always begin , with them. give me some suggestions etc. i do a lot of reading and that stuff. it can depend on the timing, but there comes a time and i don't talk to anybody else and have no more conversations. gloria: except your wife.
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jim: except my wife at the very end. because knowledge is everything. and i don't want anybody on my staff to get ever asked, do you think they're going ask about fill in the blank. gloria: do you ever get called by a campaign? jim: no, not like that. no but, think of how helpful that would be if the campaign could find out ahead of time what the questions were going to be. or even a hint of one or two questions. anything like that. case, i want to make sure that is impossible. if i don't say anything to anybody about what my questions will be, there's no way for anybody to find out. and what i have done is wait literally to the very last day and go through them with my wife and that's it. she tests them for apples and oranges. gloria: explain what you mean by
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that. jim: well, if you are going to ask candidate a and apple, you need to ask candidate b and apple. in other words, the questions have to be perceived as equal. in terms of intensity, in terms of aggressive, whatever it is. if you have asked a really pointed question that has to deal with a personal characteristic, you have to have a matching question that is perceived to be as tough as the other one of the other candidate. and all of that is really hard . because, as i say the , perceptions for the candidates are critical but also for the moderator. and for the whole process, it is not just about the moderator. when it's all said and done,
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what i want and what everybody should want is to say hey, that was a fruitful, honest exchange of ideas among one or two or three people. who is going to be president of the united states. that's what it's all about. everybody who is connected with it has to keep that in mind. that's all it is, meaning it can be the single most important public event of the campaign. gloria: let's talk about event three, because that is a whole different dynamic. we have bush, clinton, and perrault. -- perot. tell us about how perot changed the dynamic. jim: he change the dynamic of the election because he rocketed quickly into the polls.
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the democratic and republican parties run the debate commission and perot, as an independent candidate, had no role to play. he was invited in. the debate commission has a criteria of being so high in the polls, you get to be in the debate. the thing with perot that was fascinating to me was moderating his debates. he came in determined not to attack clinton or bush. under any circumstances. he was going to talk only about his ideas. every time i tried to get him to
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criticize clinton or bush, he would not do it. he would not take the bait. he was very conscious of rules and timing. every once in a while, i was afraid, he was and what debate that he was going to stop me and say you're not giving me enough time, i use some body language to say, it is going to be ok, ross. give me another minute. everything is going to be fine. and everything was. gloria: more juggling. jim: more juggling. and it was really, i did one of , those was half with panelists and half moderators. that 45t part of minutes was the most difficult and shortest 45 minutes of my life. there were no rules and we were experimenting. the debate commission and the candidates agreed. the first question, boom, boom,
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boom. and i had to make sure, not by timeclock. gloria: you do not have a timeclock? jim: not for the first 45 minutes. it was all how i perceived it. time, were counting the and telling me in my ear. but there was nothing that could be done. when that 45 minutes was over, i only had one thought in my head, was it perceived as being fair? to all three of those guys. and it was. so as far as i was concerned, i was in high cotton as they say. [laughter] gloria: people don't understand that there were people talking in your air, saying, maybe you need to get perrault --n perot another minute? jim: all they would say is the timing is clinton up 2 over bush or one over. that is all they would say. these folks were real pros.
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those of us who have done a lot of live television speak very quickly. you get used to the voices. and nobody wastes any words. nobody ever talks editorially. nobody has ever said anything editorially to me. in my air. gloria: by 1996, you were solo. that was when you started being solo. one thing that was so interesting to me in the book , boblking about that year -- neither bob dole nor jack kemp his vice presidential candidate went after clinton on , the character issue. it was so stunning to look back at. is that almost impossible to imagine today? you even asked a question because it was germane and relevant and poor the campaign. how did that go and did it surprise you? jim: it did. it surprised me.
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this was long before monica linsky. but the the gennifer flowers case had already come out and there was all kinds of stuff. i assumed it would be brought up by dole. and i asked a couple of questions that he could've taken it with. and he did not run with it. so, maybe it in or was longer than that i finally , said, senator, is there anything about president clinton's character that you think is relevant to whether or not he should be president? -- reelected president? and dole made a joke out of it. he said well he is shorter than i am or taller than i am or something like that and he just completely dodged the question. of course, then the republican supporters were all over him afterwards.
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and the next debate was jack kemp and al gore so every pundit wrote kemp would take it on. andso, i immediately got in tried to get kemp to say and he would not say. and he did say something to be effective where not here to talk about peoples character. , we're here to talk about issues. gloria: later he said he had misunderstood the question. jim: he took a lot of heat for that. but he also said, in fact both of them said to me long for this, interviewing book and documentary we did they had no regrets , about that. they both were the kinds of politicians who were uncomfortable talking about the stuff. also, but i do not know then, was that the washington post and other news organizations were working on a story about an illicit
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affair that bob dole was having. he had, not then, but for many years, with a single woman. and the dole camp knew that. dole knew the post was working on the story. him from,e that kept they decided not to open that can of worms because the post might've come with the story. even though the story- he was long estranged from his wife and the affair was with a single woman. it was long gone and years before, but it might have affected dole. and thus kemp and how they answered the question. gloria: if you fast-forward to today's political environment, with the way we are so polarized, do you think given the facts you
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now know about dole do you think , the question would be answered differently today or is that too hypothetical? jim: i think it all depends on the candidate. i think that if we had a similar situation tried to re-create what was like in 1996 and what we knew i , think the womanizing issue specifically was in the wind and had been written about, reported about in the mainstream media, as they call it. and i can't imagine not being asked in this world in very graphic terms. i think in the legitimate, probably gloria: if we knew about john edwards, for example. jim: absolutely right. i had not thought about this, until he raised this but knowing , what we knew even
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then about gennifer flowers and for him not to be asked about it i didn't ask him either. i give him ways to get to it and i give dole's waist get through it. gloria: very thoughtful. jim: yeah. but in today's world, that would have come up. gloria: on the question is when , you ask questions alluding to character or medicare, people watch these debates and wants to see if the candidate is the real deal. jim: that's it. you've got it. gloria: talk a little bit about that and moments where you thought it was not the real deal. it does not look good. maybe it was the siding moment for al gore. or candidates can sound too canned. and to prepped. jim: i think that's where most
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candidates, of the mistakes they make, most of them are of the canned variety. my advice to anybody involved in any kind of debate or interview, first thing you do know matter what else is answer the question. are you in favor of a lockbox for social security? yes. then you tell them why. you don't start with, well, social security i remember an - example in a bush -gore debate. one of them was asked in a town hall meeting in st. louis. i knew the question was coming because i had gone through them beforehand. with the questioners. this woman asked, which it was gore bush, because they both
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answered poorly and the same way. the question was, what do you have to say to the young people about our country right now? the answer was a canned answer about social security. in other words, the opportunity was there for either one of those guys to say anything about the opportunities that exist in our country today. you could've teared them up. but he said, when in doubt, go to the can. and i think they make a terrible mistake doing that. ronald reagan said in a i had with him, in his first debate where he thought he did so poorly. he said he had all of these people giving him all these briefings and telling them what to say and he did so poorly because of that. he was trying to think of what answer he was supposed to give. he got upset about that afterwards and quit doing it. gloria: he came out of it pretty well. jim: indeed he did.
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these candidates also listen to consultants too much. are not running for the consultants president. the consultants do not have all great knowledge. the person running is standing up there and they should be able to handle themselves on some of the key issues. i just be honest with people. if you don't know the exact answer, say, look, i have a -- i have not checked that out. just be straight with people. the candor would change the nature of the way people would view them. candor would suddenly go on the list as a desirable trait to have. gloria: or the appearance of candor. it is television, after all. ronald reagan got all mixed up on answers that he gave what he -- when he was over-prepped and then he had a couple of good zingers the next time and managed to do very
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well because he was also good at television. bob dole, not so much. jim: a lot of people have said that. reagan was great at television, he was an actor. like it or not, any president of the united states has to be able to communicate on television. that's like being at least 35 years old. it's a qualification. you could have the greatest ideas in the world. and if you want to get the american people to rise up and go to war or not go to our. verizon up and raise the debt ceiling, or whatever it is you , have to be able to make the case on television. you have to be able to look at a camera and people have to start nodding. yes, you're right, president. that is a qualification for office. whether anybody likes it or not. gloria: that makes me think
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about the 2008 debates. there seems to be such a difference between john mccain who has been in public life for a long time and his skills in front of the camera versus barack obama. do you take that into consideration when you think of your questions? jim: no, no, no. that case, mccain-obama, and i moderated the first of those debates at oxford, mississippi. the university of mississippi. gloria: and that almost did not happen. jim: but the issue there was body language. you may remember i tried my best to get mccain to look at obama and to address him directly. because they had negotiated a
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set of rules which made that possible. before you were not allowed to question each other, but this was a new deal and the debate commission was interested and i said i will make sure that gets done. i thought it would be terrific and mccain would not do it. finally mccain said, do you think he doesn't hear me? he got a little annoyed with my doing it and so i backed off. and quit doing it. the point had been made, and here again that was a negative. , and you don't have to use it as a source or as a pundit. but to others in their book believed that had a tremendous influence on the outcome of the election. because when that debate began, first they were neck and neck. a little advantage to mccain. obama took the lead in the polls after that and one reason for
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that people said he came over as , angry, fidgety, and rigid. and he never recovered from that. gloria: you also write about the threshold a presidential candidate needs to cross. for barack obama, that may have been a threshold. talk about that. the candidate, people are looking at them eye-to-eye on their television sets. jim: that is the key to the whole thing. issue out case, the there, spoken and unspoken, was, is this guy ready to be president? is he cool under pressure? can this guy handle himself? up until the debate, they had seen the candidates in their own settings. political events, staged events
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by their own campaigns or whatever. alright now, how is obama going to handle himself against john mccain? now we are in the big leagues. let's see. well, obama presented himself as somebody who is calm, cool, much lighter, and confident. the other thing was, he had the confidence it took to be president. those things he demonstrated as all much with body language as he did with words. at the same time john mccain, on , the other hand, because the bad rap on him was that he got angry and fidgety and this and that and he proved that. he proved a in obama's case, he negative. proved the positive. here again, very subtly and it had nothing to do-neither i'm one, sure nobody remembers this,
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i barely were member it myself. neither one would answer any of my questions directly about the financial crisis. [laughter] gloria: i kinda remember that, actually. jim: i kept asking, are you in favor of this? and each one answer from a different point of view but they never would say. there was no content difference really between them. ,it was all about a body language difference. gloria: let's set the scene for that, it was the middle of the financial crisis. john mccain suspended his campaign as i recall. and there was a question about whether you were going to have that first debate. jim: that's right. gloria: so what did you do over the debate commission? what mccain wanted was for the debate to be postponed. obama said, i am coming to mississippi, and we are going to have a debate. it was a blinking kind of thing.
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the debate commission folks said to me, because i was already in oxford, when all of this happened. the debate commission said, we are preparing for a debate. there will be a debate one way or another. told something else happens, etc.. i was approached by intermediaries. intermediaries. some folks through i was approached by people from the university of mississippi. they had spent millions of dollars preparing for this debate, it was a big deal for the state of mississippi and the university and all of that. they asked me if i would moderate an event just with obama. in other words, if mccain did not come, maybe use students and run a town hall thing. i said well, i'll think about that. let's say they did delay the debate for a week or so.
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i had a lot of conversations about what we would do and whatever. i realize in my case, fortunately, at the last minute mccain decided to come. , that was the morning of the debate. he did not decide to come until the morning. gloria: so you are preparing all of your questions. jim: and i let the other issue aside. gloria: how do you do that, compartmentalize? how do you do that when you have this huge story going on outside, and inside your hotel room you our sitting and doing these questions? jim: it is the nature of the beast. i decided the other thing about all these things, gloria, is if it is possible, try to always worry about the things you have control over and not -- gloria: but that is hard. jim: very much so. but i decided i wasn't going to
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prepare for a one on one thing with barack obama, because i did -- i had not agreed to do that and i didn't know what was going to happen. i went on preparing as if we would have a debate the regular way. the issue here was my first subject. i was supposed to do foreign policy and national security. and bob schieffer was going to do the second, domestic. called him, who was my friend. and i said schieffer, for the , record, right now the financial crisis is a national security informed issue. [laughter] i told debate commission so they could tell the candidates. i explained that at the beginning. i do not have to in retrospect. i wasted some time explaining it at the beginning of the debate that this really was important enough to talk about in the first debate. anyhow, it went off exactly on time.
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but it was hairy, no question. i compare it in the book, the these things are debates - themselves and the whole experience from my point of view like walking down the blade of aslike walking down the blade of a very sharp knife. could go wrong and anythingcould go wrong and you could get cut. i think everyone involved in these felt the same way. gloria: you wrote about the in which things went horribly wrong. 27 minute no sound, right? with jimmy carter? jimmy carter and gerald ford where they just stood on the state for 27 minutes and said nothing to each other, which is remarkable when you think about it. jim: it really is. gloria: was there any time in your debates when you were panicked inside and thought oh my god, this is not going to come off? jim: you mean the content?
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gloria: or -- yes, the content or the logistics, something that got out of control. i know there were other debates that kind of got out of control. jim: no, there wasn't any time i thought things were going to be out of control. there were many times i was disappointed i was unable to use the rules in such a way to ask follow-ups that i thought should be asked. i always worked very hard to make damn sure i stay within the rules, but also use the rules in ways so that there can be a flow to it. gloria: do you have input into the rules, or is it the campaigns negotiating? jim: no. they negotiate and they give you the rules and say we hereby invite you to moderate the debate of so-and-so. will you do this, and will you agree to enforce these rules? gloria: what is the best format?
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jim: the best format is a loose format. we had a fairly loose one in oxford. in that case there were nine minutes where you could talk about a question back and forth, and it wasn't so limiting. i think a wide open format is too much of a good thing. you really could lose control of it. you would play to the strengths- both of them are very good communicators, but one is a slightly better communicator, you would give an edge to that one if you opened it up completely. in other words, with no rules at all, and they ask each other questions and you played kind of , as ringmaster but not as moderator. would-anyway my
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, idea would be good evening, here we are come here is candidate a and candidate b. we are going to talk about foreign policy. the first ring we are going to talk about is troops of in afghanistan and withdrawal of the troops. what is your position on that? candidate a. blah, blah, blah. let's talk about history on afghanistan, how we got there. and they would talk to each other and they were talk to me, talk to the moderator, it would be a full discussion. well, you said, that would be open and you said such and such. you could do that in that format. you could say, we could go, what did you mean when you said you were little more of a whatever. then enough of that, let's go to about libya. , and do the same thing. do it by subject matter, and make sure everyone understands the context, and everyone understands how each candidate feels about it, and not be restricted to a particular time
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to talk about libya. another it, you might say in five minutes we got it. it may take 12. but we would do it that way. it is hard work for moderator to do that format. but it would be the best format. gloria: by the time they get to these debates as you point out they don't like , each other very much. they have gone through an entire campaign trying to discredit each other on policy and maybe in other areas. when you asked them to engage, as you did with obama and mccain, you saw mccain would not talk to him. is that engagement easy? really, at this point, these are people who do not like each other. jim: that's right. and gloria i hadn't thought , about it, but that may have been exactly what the problem was. that mccain had just had it with obama and his people. they had said some things about him, he was tired of it, and he didn't feel like having a "civilized" exchange.
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gloria: that was authentic, that was real. jim: that was not canned. clearly and you look at it from obama what , we know about him since he has been president, that was the real barack obama on the stage, too. that manner he demonstrated in the first debate is the manner he demonstrated as president of -- he has been demonstrating since as president of , the united states. that is the other thing we all have to keep in mind, and i remind people all the time, there are very few accidents that become candidates for president of the united states. these people have been through meat grinders and mix masters. they have been tumbled and called every name of the book -- -- in the book, they have been accused of everything, they have had people yelling at them, and that had all kinds of information. they have been tested, and and tested, and tested by the time they get on stage in front of 100 million people for a debate.
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this is not the first time they have done that. it is just the most important time. they know from where they came. most of the candidates, most of the public, already knows these people, too, by that time. gloria: so on one hand they are , being over prepped by their consultants and advisors. on the other hand, they are being told, just be yourself. do you sense the nervousness? jim: sure. gloria: really? jim: oh, yeah. every one of these. you can smell it from day one. , i have the same feeling in a debate. i'm nervous when i begin. once i get into it, and you can tell when the candidates get into it. but for them it is never over for them until it is over. the next question could be one that they may not have thought completely about. there may be something there.
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they can't ever, there is no cruising allowed for any candidate. but the nervousness knowing ,like looking at your watch. or saying something. the best example, editorially, was gerald ford in the debate with jimmy carter when he said eastern europe was not dominated the soviet union. and his head was handed to him. i asked him about that. he said here is what i meant. i just didn't say it right. here again, he understood why everyone jumped him, and they jumped him badly and it hurt him terribly. he was already behind in the andhe was already behind in the polls, so this made it even worse. but those examples are the ones that every candidate knows about. they want to make sure that doesn't happen to them.
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that makes them very cautious. it makes their consultants very cautious. gloria: what do you do when it is over, and suddenly the reviews are in? not only the candidates, but also the moderator. you have spent so much time preparing for this, and suddenly people are saying, why did he ask that question, or why did he ask this question? jim: it is exhilarating when it is over. with all of the strain and all of that. for me, i've always felt good about it -- not always, but usually i felt really good about it. when the reviews come, someone hammers me, and says -- that has happened to me several times. i wish i could say to you i don't mind criticism. [laughter] i am just like everybody else. i don't handle criticism well.
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but i also realize, look, if i can't handle criticism, i shouldn't be moderating presidential debates. i shouldn't even be on television. that goes with the territory. public reaction - and it is impossible to please everybody - and if you think about pleasing everybody, then you will please nobody. if i feel -- i am so cocky now -- cocky is not the word. i have been doing this so long that somebody criticizes me for something and i don't think that criticism is justified, i don't worry about it. nobody has to tell me when i screwed up. i know when i screwed up. that comes with doing this for a long time. gloria: what about the next debates? jim: they're going to be great. i will not be participating. gloria: will you be watching? jim: you bet i will be watching, and i will be willing to help anybody i possibly can.
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do anything i can. they are critical to the election process. i will be there to help as an observer. gloria: and watching it in front of the tv set will be less nerve-racking, one would assume. jim: yes, ma'am. [laughter] gloria: will thank you so much this is a fabulous book. . this is a fabulous book. i really enjoyed it. not just because i am a political junkie, but there is a lot of interesting history and it is very important. "tension city" by jim lehrer. thank you. jim: thank you, gloria. ♪ announcer 1: c-span, your unfiltered view of government. created in 1979 and brought to you today by your television
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provider. trump's legal team began their opening arguments in the senate impeachment trial. it took about two hours out of the allotted 24 and said they don't plan to use all of the 24 hours. here is a look at how the day began as chief justice john roberts gaveled in. convene.nate will the chaplain will lead us in prayer. let us pray. eternal god, the way, the truth and the light. unite our senators in their striving to do your will. striving to do your will. lord, you have been our help


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