Debate Moderator: "Mission Was To Stay Out of the Way"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Oct. 5 2012 10:05 AM

Jim Lehrer Explains His Hands-Off Moderating Style

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Debate moderator Jim Lehrer speaks prior to Wednesday's debate

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

In the hours after Wednesday night's debate, we penned something of a defense of moderator Jim Lehrer.

Yesterday evening, the PBS NewsHour veteran offered one of his own. Here's his statement (via BuzzFeed):

"I thought the format accomplished its purpose, which was to facilitate direct, extended exchanges between the candidates about issues of substance. Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so. My only real personal frustration was discovering that ninety minutes was not enough time in that more open format to cover every issue that deserved attention."
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It's worth pointing out that Wednesday night's format was designed by the organization that runs the debates in the hopes of facilitating a more free-flowing conversation between the two candidates. Here's how the Commission on Presidential Debates described the format ahead of time:

The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by the moderator and announced several weeks before the debate. The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond. The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the topic.

The next presidential debate, on Oct. 16, will be a "town hall" format, with audience members asking questions of the candidate and CNN's Candy Crowley moderating. The third and final one, however, will have the same format as the first, but with CBS's Bob Schieffer steering the ship instead of Lehrer.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.