With November's election fast approaching, people across the country are sitting down to watch the one Vice-Presidential and three Presidential debates. The Presidential debates are a key part of the election process because they are the only opportunity that voters have to see the two candidates side-by-side talking about their stances on key issues. The debates are demanding on the two contenders, and give voters the chance to see how they can respond and communicate under pressure.
However, debates cannot run themselves; they need a moderator to ask the right questions in order to get the candidates to open up. Jim Lehrer, one of the founding anchors of what is now the PBS NewsHour, has been asked to moderate eleven presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate; more than any other person in history. He describes the experience of moderating as being "like walking down the blade of a knife."
The stakes are high, and with tens of millions of Americans watching, the pressure is on. "It's not a lot of fun, but if you get to the other end, it's really exciting," Lehrer said.
The debate moderator does not submit questions to a committee or anyone else for approval before the start of the debate. The candidates do not know what will be asked of them beforehand, forcing them to prepare on all issues, and respond spontaneously and off-script. Off-the-cuff remarks and gestures have created major moments in campaign history that sometimes come to define the debate, and even a candidate.
"Moderators are not human lie-detector machines. The lie-detector machines are the people who are listening," - Jim Lehrer.
"Under my personal rules, I ask candidate-A a question, I look only at candidate-A. I never look at candidate-B, because I don't want to be involved in eye contact to help -- in any way affect the response of the other candidate," - Jim Lehrer
1. Did you watch the first Presidential debate? What did you think?
2. What are the Presidential debates? What is their purpose?
3. What is the role of a moderator in a debate? What responsibilities do they have?
1. What defines a good moderator? How do you determine whether a debate was successfully moderator or not?
2. If you were moderating one of the debates, what would you ask the candidates?
3. What makes the moderator's job so tricky? Why would Mr. Lehrer describe the experience as "like walking down the blade of a knife"?
Lesson Plan: Understanding and Hosting a Post-Presidential Debate:
Presidential Debates Could Be Pivotal for Obama and Romney:
Analyzing the Candidates in the 2012 Presidential Election: