While most websites have been analyzing the performances of the two candidates in Thursday’s debate, Jay Rosen, head of the NYU Journalism Department, has decided to analyze Lehrer’s performance as moderator on his website PressThink. He has asked his readers to comment on what they saw and it’s created quite a lively discussion with some very insightful, and generally postitive, thoughts about Lehrer’s performance. Here are a few that jumped out at me:
In response to: “Your favorite Jim Lehrer moment from tonight?”
Rebecca Blood: “I liked it very much when he stopped the debate twice to clearly restate the candidates’ positions on an issue and to ask if that accurately relected their position. I felt as if he was making an honest attempt to help the viewer make sense of a point that might otherwise have been muddied.”
In response to: “Does Jim Lehrer of PBS have a style and what are the consequences of that style in a presidential debate?”
Jay Rosen: It’s harder than it looks to do what Lehrer does. Just to be cool and alert in the situation is a feat of professional discipline. Lehrer was that: he was disciplined. I think Andrew is right that his great skill is his ear. But you have to be calm and confident enough to relax in a very tense situation and just… listen. Kerry says Bush made a colossal mistake. “Colossal misjudgments,” says Lehrer, “what colossal misjudgments, in your opinion, has President Bush made in these areas?”
This invites Kerry to swing away at Bush and in that sense is not a “tough” question. On the other hand, it increases the pressure on Kerry: now he has to convince us that “colossal” is the right word, or he loses some of what tried to gain. Lehrer would never say, “it my job to increase the pressure on the candidates,” because that wouldn’t fly, politically. Still, it’s what a moderator in that situation does.
I personally thought Lehrer performed quite well in what must be an incredibly difficult job. I know personally that as hard as I tried to stay focused on everything each candidate was saying on more than one occaision I found myself tuning one or the other out. 90 minutes is a long time to be at your peak of concentration and Lehrer never seemed to waver from that. I, as the comment from PressThink, think that he was at his best when he actually stopped the debate those two times and attempted to clear up what the candidates’ positions were on specific topics. I’m excited to see the debates to come.