The who’s who of the first presidential debate

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With the first presidential debate less than a week a way, three important people are preparing for their appearance on the national debate stage.

Two of these people are obvious: President Barack Obama and GOP candidate Mitt Romney. But who is the third?

On Aug. 13, 2012, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced Jim Lehrer as the moderator for the first presidential debate in Denver. Lehrer, 78, is the Executive Editor of PBS Newshour, which he also co-founded in 1975 (originally called The MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour), and has won numerous awards as a journalist whose career has spanned six decades.

Lehrer has moderated at least one presidential debate every election year since 1988, and this debate marks his 12th. In 1996 and 2000, he was the sole moderator for the presidential debates, including one vice-presidential debate in 1996. The last debate he moderated was between Obama and McCain in 2008.

Alan Schroeder, a professor of journalism at Northeastern University, recently praised Lehrer for “consistently keeping the focus on the candidates, without a whiff of political favoritism.”

Despite his unparalleled experience as a moderator, Lehrer is still aware of the gravity of his role within the debate process.

In a recent interview with Kurtis Lee, a reporter for the Denver Post, Lehrer was asked about his “psychic scars” from past debates. Lehrer said, “The psychic scars are from having imagined — in real time — the various horrors that could befall me during a debate. I always know that I am but a hair of a second away from a loose word or gesture, a missed point or stupid question that could affect the outcome of the debate — and even the election.”

On the other hand, Lehrer said that he enjoys “the exhilaration of having just said… ‘Thank you and good night …'” after moderating a debate without having made any terrible mistakes. He also would like to think that he “…may even have helped a few citizens make one of the most important decisions of their lives.”

Although Lehrer works for PBS, other news stations will broadcast the debate. In fact, for those watching TV during the debate, it will be hard to miss. CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, C-SPAN and Fox will all air the debate live. Over 3,500 media personnel are estimated to attend, according to the University of Denver.

For everyone planning on watching the debate, here is some more basic information:

What:

This is the first of a series of three presidential debates to be held before the election in November. According to the Commission on Presidential Debate, this debate will focus on domestic policy and will consist of six 15-min. segments dedicated to topics chosen by the moderator, Jim Lehrer. On Sept. 19, Lehrer released his six topics:

  • The Economy – I
  • The Economy – II
  • The Economy – III
  • Health Care
  • The Role of Government
  • Governing

Each segment allows the candidates two minutes to respond to a question posed by the moderator concerning each topic, and the rest of the time will be used in discussing the topic.

When:

The debate will begin at 7:00 p.m. MST on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Where:

The University of Denver will host the debate in the Magness Arena, an arena which is a part of the larger Ritchie Center, a multi-purpose sports and activities facility.

Why:

Jan Hemming, director of communications for Utah’s gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke, explained the importance of presidential debates.

“It’s important for voters to see how those who want to hold this nation’s highest office stand up under pressure and their thought process,” she said. “There is probably nothing more stressful than a live debate — but it also reveals a lot about the candidates and is an important part of the democratic process. Are they thoughtful? Are the impulsive? Can they think through critical issues? It’s a good test.”

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