Jim Lehrer: Inside Presidential Debates

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

As Republican candidates continued the fight for the nomination this week in another early Republican primary debate, former PBS News anchor Jim Lehrer, no stranger to the moderator's chair, joins us to discuss his career as an interviewer and his new book, Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain.


Jim Lehrer

Comments [13]

Fred A. Kahn from Bethesda, Maryland

I apologize for misspelling Walter Cronkite's name. It was Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow on July 25, 1960 who asked Vice President Richard Nixon if he would agree to debate the Democratic party candidate Senator John D. Kennedy. As I mentionned earlier Frank Stanton, head of CBS, and Robert Sarnoff, head of NBC, in their testimonies to a Congressional committee , who had endorsed debates between the candidates of the major two parties. Finally, th e question of the two TV personalities to VP Nixon got the ball rolling. Senator Kennedy accepted the debate in response to Nixon willingness to debate him,The League of Women's Voters sponsored the debate with the television channels broadcasting them as well as the radio media. Representatives of Nixon,headed by Herb Klein and those of Kennedy ,headed by Pierre Salinger, as well as representatives of the TV and radio met throughout August 1960 to establish the format. Allegation now of the aging Mr. Newton Minow in his book of his alleged role and that of Governor Stevenson are not substantiated by any paper trail I could find..

Mar. 06 2012 03:41 AM
Fred A. Kahn from Bethesda, Maryland

i wasasked why Jim Lehrer did not mention my role as an early proponent of the presidential elecyion debates. I was given credit by author Kate Kelly and the Nixon Foundation. I met with Governor Stevenson in Brussels when he was on the way to Moscow late June 1958, We discusswd my presidential elecyion debates proposal and he expressed to me that he viewed it favorably I just learned that a Mr. Minow alleges that Governor Stevenson weote an article endorsing myproposal in l960. U have yet to find that article, but of course, I am pleased. I also met there in Brussels with Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt in in August 1958, I was there on thestaff of the US Department of State handling the VIPs visiting the US Pavilion, In 1956,. i was the subject of an interview in the Baltimore Sun,, August 28, 1956, with the heading of "Immigrant urges Presidential election debates." The Associated Press and the UPI had also carried my proposal nationwide. If you search the internet, you will find many references to my contribution , but Jim Lehrer has obviously not done that. That is , in my view, poor research work when he wrote his book. I think he is mostly on an ego trip in his book , the temper of the today's narcissist society. it was not so in the 1956 when I made the proposal endporsed ion personal letters by the Republican Governor of Maryland the late Honorable Theodore Mc Keldin , Mrs, Roosevelt and the President of the university of Maryland Fr. Wilson Elkons. The chair of both major parties also sent me personal letters expressing their interest. Yet. Mr. Jim Leherer igmnores all that. I still have the letters and clipponggs of newspapers. In those days, the climate was not ready for debates between the major candidates of the two parties. I amaccorded a role in preparing the climate in the 1960 debate. Then, Robert Sarnoff of NBC and Frank Stanton of CBS testified to subcommittees of Congress for the presidential election debates.But, it was in an interview on July 25, 1960 , by Walter Conkrite and Edward R. Murrow that candidate Richard Nixon agreed to debate the democratic candidate. Nixon announced that three days later at the Repin;lican convention. Kennedy agreed and in Aigist representatives of both Nixon and Kennedy met along with representatives of the TB and Rado media to agree on a format. The result is in a memo from Pierre Salinger to Herb Klein, dated Sepember 1, 1060. The first debate was on September 26, 1960, in a Chicago television station. The rest is history/

Mar. 06 2012 03:20 AM

i apologize for the many typographical errors in my previous posting, As I mentionned , I had come up with the ide a in l956 , then it made national coverage of the press of the day, The Nixon foundation blog cites me as well as author Kate Kelly in an article on Huffington Post. It would behoove Mr. Lehrer to learn about my role even that I am not of his stature but i received the highest civil servant award from the US Secretary of Labor and represented the US at the 1958 Brussel s world's Fair on the staff of the US Department of State, I had a 29-year career as a senior political economist in Washington, D.C. under six presidential administrations. You may learn about how the debates came about by going to: and:

Sep. 17 2011 05:33 PM
Fred Kahn from Bethesda. Maryland

Jim Leherer may want to know the origins of the presidential debnate. If he had the curiosity he would learn that i proposed it with the perrsonal endorsement of the late Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of President of Frankin Delano Roosevelt, from the Democrat side and on the Republican side Gocernor Theodore Mc Keldin who had nominated President Eisenjower. As the Nixon Foundation blog has noted Fred Kahn, an immigrant and Holocaust survivor, lit the sparty that led to the 1960 debate on Septemeber 26, 1960. You may read more about me and the idea of my proposing the debates if you write Fred Kahn and presidential debates on google search. I am still alive and manage a worldwide group on yahoo!

Sep. 17 2011 05:11 PM
Erin from Albany, NY

The caller who mentioned giving each candidate an equal share of talk time is exactly how televised presidential debates happen in Europe - like the chess clock. There is a moderator, but the candidates sit and face each other and *truly* debate each other, and someone keeps track of topics and clock. It's fabulous and, sure, there are gaffes, but that makes it great to watch!

Sep. 14 2011 12:54 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Or you can even listen to the rebroadcast at 11 on WNYC!

Sep. 14 2011 10:57 AM
John from manhattan

Many other important jobs in our society require applicants to take numerous close-book, timed essay exams(e.g. lawyers, doctors). Presidential candidates should have to answer questions on important issues in a closed-book, timed, written format, which would then be published for the public to consider.

Sep. 14 2011 10:52 AM
Chris from Brooklyn

I miss the televised long-form interview, but it's making a comeback in the form of Podcasts. Does Jim listen to them? Would he over host one?

Sep. 14 2011 10:52 AM
John A. from 50 miles out.

PBS Newshour... best news show on the air.
Aaand, available without cable.
Free education equally available for the poor and rich alike, seriously.

Sep. 14 2011 10:51 AM
ellen from brooklyn

Do you think presidential debates would be more meaningful if there were more than two parties in the United States?

Sep. 14 2011 10:51 AM

Question for Jim Lehrer..

Why doesn't the moderator insist that the candidates answer the question? It seems as if the candidates are allowed to drift off into their rhetoric..Thanks

Sep. 14 2011 10:51 AM

Why are these even called "debates"? It's basically the candidates saying what their point of view is on any topic. There's no debate.. no cohesive train of thought to gain insight into how the candidate thinks.

Sep. 14 2011 10:50 AM
JT from LI

My problem with all the debates is that the candidates can all spew whatever "facts" they want without challenge. The other candidates proceed to spew different "facts" and they go on like children for a while: "No it isn't"; "Yes it is" until time is up.

Sep. 14 2011 10:49 AM

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