Jim Lehrer: No regrets over handling of debate

Wednesday October 10, 2012

NEW YORK -- Jim Lehrer says that he accomplished precisely what he wanted to while moderating the first presidential de bate: get Mitt Romney and Ba rack Obama talking to each other.

The former PBS anchor said last week’s confrontation will be re membered as a watershed mo ment because it was a real debate in stead of simultaneous interviews of the candidates.

He took some heavy criticism on social media for his light hand, letting the candidates talk and generally asking open-ended questions de signed to encourage them to explore differences.

It was a new format approved over the summer by the Commis sion on Presidential Debates. Lehr er said the differences were not explained well to the public in advance.

Lehrer, who has moderated 12 presidential debates since 1988, planned to divide Wednesday’s de bate into 15-minute sections divided by topic areas. But that quickly went off the rails.

"The first few times I said ‘let’s move on’ and they wanted to keep talking, the inclination of course is to stop them so I could cover all the subjects I wanted to cover," he said. "But I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Wait a minute, they’re talking to each other, leave ‘em alone.’ So I backed off."

He’d get much harsher criticism if he prematurely stopped discussions, he said.

"Not only that, but I would have deserved it," he said.


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