Lessons on wrangling candidates
From Jim Lehrer, the masterful moderator of presidential debates
Boy, do I miss Jim Lehrer.
I thought of the late PBS anchor and legendary presidential debate moderator fondly while watching the last two Democratic debates in Charleston and Las Vegas. The constant interruptions, the lack of decorum, and the complete disregard for time limits on candidates’ answers all worked to cause viewers like me to hope Lehrer had faked his own death and would come walking back on stage.
Why couldn’t a combined total of 10 moderators at two debates keep control of seven candidates?
With the next Democratic debate coming this weekend, the moderators from CNN and Univision could learn a few lessons from a pro like Lehrer.
‘Clarify that statement’
Dubbed by Politico as the “Master of Moderation,” Lehrer moderated 12 presidential debates between 1988 and 2012, the most of anyone in American history.
Two years ago, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, a nonpartisan think tank that specializes in presidential scholarship, held a workshop for senior fellows—including me—to learn how to moderate debates and panel discussions. Lehrer, a long-time Miller Center board member, offered to give us his best advice.
Three hours later, I had taken pages of notes.
“To me, moderating a presidential debate has become like riding a bike,” Lehrer said, acknowledging his decades of being at center stage every four years. “But I realize not everyone knows how to ride that bike, so I’m going to spend the next few hours teaching you what I know.”