tv Book TV Viewer Call- In CSPAN November 20, 2011 3:15pm-4:00pm EST
and told him to start looking into getting a man to the moon. the beginning of the space program. he also went to the pentagon until the pentagon to develop a task force to look into further ways to get rid of fidel castro. but this became an obsession of the kennedy administration. finally and maybe most importantly on april 20th of 1961 he appointed a task force on vietnam. this was, until this moment vietnam had really been a back burner issue for the american government. as of this point it became a front burner issue. kennedy's advisers but vietnam was a place where we could make a stand against communism. seven days later the task force came back recommended putting more personnel into the kid on. ..
>> thank you, jim. >> thank you. >> and you're watching booktv on c-span2, we are live from the miami book fair on the campus of miami-dade college in downtown miami, and you can see on your screen that the c-span bus is here at the book fair as well. so if you're in the area, we'll be here for a couple more hours. come on down and say hi. we've got one more call-in segment coming on booktv on c-span2, and that's with the "newshour"'s jim lehrer and his new book. but we also have a couple more hours of webcasts ahead. in just a few minutes, isabel wilkerson will be in chapman hall talking about "the warmth of other suns." that will be available at booktv.org.
after that jim lehrer are also be up in chapman hall, we'll bring that to you live online as well, and the miami book fair concludes with author michael moore at 6 p.m. eastern time, you can watch that at booktv.org. well, one more call-in segment on booktv on c-span2 coming up, and that's with jim lehrer. recently, mr. lehrer sat down for our "after words" program with gloria of cnn to talk about "tension city." here's a little bit of video, then we'll be back live with mr. lehrer. >> guest: presidential debates have become the only time with with -- where the candidates, usually two, sometimes three, are on the same stage at the same time talking about the same things. and they come usually in october with the election pretty close, maybe a month or only a month or less away. the polls show that in up in
probably 90% or more of the people have already made a decision as to who, for whom they're going to vote. but for whom they're going to vote decision, some of them are leaning, some of them are not, and mostly what they want to do, the issues are pretty much on the table, and people have decided whether they're in favor of lock boxes for social security or debt ceiling -- >> host: al gore. [laughter] >> guest: right, whatever. all those decisions have been made by the voters. what still remains to be seen and decided upon, do i like this person? does this person as a person come over as somebody -- forget what the issues are. what if there's a crisis? what if there's something similar katrina? what if there's another 9/11? what if there is some major catastrophe or crisis happens? how do you feel about this person? and that's why it's important. >> host: well, it's interesting. you call the book "tension city," because, of course, it is. these candidates have to make
people like them, essentially, is what you're saying. >> guest: right. >> host: you spoke with bush 41, george h.w. bush who said to you the debates are, quote, ugly. i don't like 'em. why? why did he say that? >> guest: he felt, he feels very strongly that it's all show biz. in other words, for instance, one debate it was a three-person debate with bill clinton and ross perot. when he looked at his watch -- [laughter] >> host: famous moment. >> guest: famous moment. he said, yeah, okay, so i looked at my watch. so they're all over me, you know? it doesn't have anything to do with issues, doesn't have anything to do with whatever. but then he said in the interview with me he said, well, i said, why were you looking at your watch? he said, well, because this thing was boring me? yeah. i was looking to see when this thing was going to be over. but, see, those kinds of things to the audience, you know, it leaves an impression.
and it's a language impression, but it's a body language impression rather than a spoken word impression. so, and so from george h.w. bush's point of view, he just thinks it's ridiculous for, to have so much riding on these two, three 90-minute exchanges in a presidential debate. >> host: you know, his son, though, as you point out in the book, feels exactly the opposite. >> guest: exactly. he thinks it's opposite. he and bill clinton said they feel it makes them not only better candidates, but better presidents because it forces them finally in those last few weeks before the election to be able not only to decide what they really believe, but to be able to articulate it. so they see it all in a positive way, both george w. bush and bill clinton. >> host: you wrote that, and i'm going to quote your book here,
each participant remembered the debate forum through the prism, emotional as well as political. is there any debate performance -- theirs or yours -- that sort of sticks out in your mind where you were sitting -- >> guest: well, sure. sure. one of the problems by sitting so close and, remember, it's all about television. this is for the millions is and millions of people who are watching on television. it isn't a studio program, this is not a pep rally for the opposing candidates or any of that, and it's not even an interview program. it's not -- the purpose of the debate is not to show how terrific the moderator is -- >> host: how much you know. >> guest: how much i know and, exactly, how quick he or she is in responding and all of that. and i, for instance, in the -- to answer your question specifically, the one i remember more than any other, um, was the first al gore/george w. bush debate. it was in boston, 2000.
and i was sitting right where i am now, and bush was to my right, and gore was to my left. very close. and, in fact, i was the closest person to them, obviously. and i have a rule that when, and i would suggest this to anybody who moderates any kind of debate, keep your eye on the person who's talking, not on the person who's reacting because if you watch the person who's reacting, you can get eye contact, you can distort the reaction. >> host: right. >> guest: so at any rate, to make a long story short, i would ask a question of bush, and bush would be giving an answer, and gore started sighing and -- remember that? he got going like that. well, that hurt him terribly because the public saw that because they had split-screen coverage then. >> host: right. >> guest: but when it was all over, i'm walking out of the hall with my family, and one of my daughters said, oh, dad, that
was incredible, what gore did. i stopped, and i said, what did gore did? and she mentioned about the sighing and grimacing and all of that, and i didn't want see any of that. -- i didn't see any of that. but people listening to that on the radio thought gore won that debate. people who watched it on television -- >> host: kennedy/nixon, did that happen the same way? >> guest: exactly the same parallel. >> host: you raised an interesting point about your role as a moderator. we see you on the "newshour" all the time as an interviewer, and i'd love you to talk a little bit more about the difference between the role of the interviewer we see you as on the "newshour" trying to make some news, trying to get some news versus the role of the person sitting in that middle seat in a presidential debate. because i think people, it's a distinction that people need to sort of understand perhaps. >> guest: i agree. it's very -- i see them as two
very different functions. let's say you'd have candidate a and candidate b on the "newshour", and i was running a discussion. i would follow up, introduce new subjects, you know, hey, what do you think about this, you know, etc., etc., etc., but in a presidential debate i also have my own little patterns that i have developed. i make the decision, rightly or wrongly, that i am not going to introduce a whole new subject out of the blue at a presidential debate. it's not, this campaign has been going on for a year or more, the public has heard all of this, and i, it'd be very easy to sit in front of 90 million people and ask some question off the wall, embarrass the candidates, but for what point? what purpose? and so that's number one rule. another rule is you have to make sure that everything is perceived as being absolutely
100% fair. it doesn't mean that it has to be fair. it has to be per perceived as fair. you can run a discussion on a regular television news broadcast like, say, the "newshour", and everything, you know, the clock is this, and the timing is right and whatever. but if it's not for some reason you weren't fair to, weren't perceived as being fair to ideas as well as to the people, you can blow the whole deal. with a presidential debate, it is always, i always have to remind myself, and i do this all the time. first of all, this is not about me. >> host: right. >> guest: i already have the best job in television journalism. i'm not auditioning for a better job. i'm not running for anything. if people are talking about my question even favorably when it's over with, i have failed because it isn't about the questions, it's about the answers. >> host: and we are back live at the miami book fair, and our final call-in guest of the day
is joining us now, and that is jim lehrer of the "newshour". his most recent book, "tension city: inside the presidential debates from kennedy/nixon to obama/mccain, my view from the middle seat." when's the first time you or hosted a presidential debate? >> guest: it was in 19 88 between then-vice president george h.w. bush and michael dukakis who was then the golf of massachusetts or former governor, and he was the democratic nominee. >> host: what do you remember about that debate? >> guest: oh, i remember every second of it. it was hairy in every way i had imagined, and even got hairy before the debate began. there was a, in those days the format was a moderator and three journalist panelists. and we had a meeting the night before in winston-salem, north carolina, it was going to be on the campus of wake forest
university, and the four of us had a meeting to go over questions. and i was the moderator, the three panelists were peter jennings of abc news, annie grower who was in the orlando paper and john maasic who was in the atlanta paper. and we went over, we had dinner, and it was very secure, it was in a closed room in a downtown office building, and suddenly peter jennings said i've got an idea. let's forget the debate rules, let's just say, mr. bush, mr. dukakis, go at it with no rules, nothing. and i was stunned. and i got very self-righteous, all of that, i said, oh, peter, we can't do that. we're honor-bound, we agreed to do this and this and this and whatever. i didn't know what we were going to do. fortunately, annie and john agreed with me, and so anyhow,
we had, we outvoted him. we didn't really vote, but we -- there were, the majority, majority ruled, and peter went on and all of that. but we, and we followed the rules and all that. but i must say, it was spooky for me and scary, and can it's been scary ever since. >> host: mr. lehrer, you've become the singular moderator for several of the most recent debates. how did that come about? >> guest: well, in many cases it was simply they couldn't agree on anybody else. and in one case, in fact, it was 1992, i had agreed to do the first clinton debate, and then they were going to have some other moderators do the other ones. and i got a call, i was then at williams burg doing something else. i'd already agreed to do the first one, and i got a call through an intermediary and said, well, they're still arguing about who the other two or three moderators are going to be. they've agreed on you.
people want to go to bed, would you agree to do all of them? and i was, oh, my -- okay, okay, how could i say no? and that happened a couple of times after that, and i ended up doing -- once i did all of the george w. bush/al gore debates. in that case i think they just made the decision that the big commission made early on and left it at that. there was some negotiation, but less so than before. but it is, basically, a process of elimination, not of exultation, okay? [laughter] >> host: how would you prepare? >> guest: well, the basic rule, it took me a while to learn this, the basic rule of preparing for a debate is the same as preparing for a good interview or a discussion you would do on television or even in print, is you've got to have enough information in your head so you can be relaxed enough to react to the answers, to listen to the answers. if you can't, then you're -- if all you can do is just write
questions and, again, ask them one right after another, you get caught up in things going right by your head. i use the example in the book, in fact, of a made-up example. i'm interviewing a senator, and i say, senator, should we sell more grain to cuba? yeah, i think we should sell more grain to cuba, but before we do that, we should bomb havana, and i say with my follow-up question all prepared, what kind of grain, senator? and if you're not careful, you can do that. and in a presidential debate it's critical that you -- it's hard to relax in that situation, but you've got to be calm enough to where you can listen to the answer and make a split-second decision. do i move on? do i follow up? have i got -- what do i do now? and the only way you can make that decision is to be relaxed enough, and the only way you can get relaxed enough is by doing your homework.
>> host: mr. lehrer will be with us for the next 30 minutes or so, 202-624-111 in the eastern and central time zones, 202-624-1115 in the mountain and pacific time zones or send him a tweet, twitter.com/booktv. the different formats, were they confining as a host? >> guest: well, the formats, first of all, everybody needs to understand that the moderator has nothing to do with decide what the format is in if any given debate. they, it's a subject of negotiation between or among the handlers or the representatives of the candidates and the commission on presidential debates. and in if recent cases -- in recent cases the commission on presidential debates suggests or recommends a format that they think would be preferable, and then the representatives of the candidates sit down, and they thrash it out. the difficult thing for a moderator is that when a
moderator is invited to moderate a presidential debate, it's a little bit like the seventh grade prom question, you know? penelope, if i invited you to go to the prom, would you go? well, in this case, billy bob journalist, if you were to moderate, if we asked you to moderate this panel, moderate this debate, would you enforce these rules? so you look at the rules, and then you decide whether or not you figure you can do it or not and whether you want to do it or not, whether they're too restrictive. and some of them have become pretty restrictive, there's no question about it. because the way the negotiations -- remember, so much is riding on this that the people or hold up negotiating for the candidate -- who are negotiating for the candidate, they're looking for an advantage for themself or a disadvantage for the other side. and if a candidate is known to be, say, a really whiz-bang debater, good on the uptake, quick and that sort of thing,
well, then that's a different set of rules might apply. if somebody tends to go on and on and on, well, then they would want -- the other guy would want rules, the other person would want rules that make it difficult for this person to stay in the confines. in other words, you'd want one minute, two minutes, 30 seconds, whatever, whatever. and we're, and what some people like follow-ups, some people don't like follow-ups, all that sort of stuff. and where i always had a problem, i always look at the rules, and i say, okay, can i do this? can i get, can i make the flow work? can i use these rules, maybe construct a way of using the rules and not violate the spirit of the rules, but use the rules as a way to add some follow-ups, stuff like that? it's hard, no question about it. and you've got to make sure that you don't get involved in that. in other words, on the air you don't get involved in trying to manipulate the rules and whatever. but it's not easy.
>> host: when the candidates break the rules, what can you do? >> guest: well, you've got to call their hand. and you have got to call their hand in front of millions and millions of people. and it's, that also is not easy. you need to do it in a gentle, professional way. you need to do it on -- also, you've got to tell people ahead of time what the rules are. the very beginning of a debate. okay, here's what the rules are. so the audience is with you when you stop them and say, hey, billy bob, you're going over, your time's up. the candidate -- the audience realizes, they can tell the two minutes is up or whatever. and for the most part, it's not that difficult. there are very few, in my experiences at least, where the candidates blatantly disregarded or violated the rules. >> host: jim lehrer is our guest. phone numbers are on the screen. glenn in freeline, michigan, you're the first caller. go ahead with your question or comment for jim lehrer. >> caller: yes, sir, thank you
very much, gentlemen. mr. lehrer, you're a great man, and i know on your news program you try and get all sides on there to whatever extent you can, so this isn't a criticism of you personally or anything. i was just wondering, though, about these debates, and you kind of talked about this a little while ago. for one thing they aren't really debates, are they? they're more like joint press conferences. there isn't really much debating, real debating between the two candidates. and also, um, as i understand it, um, these were run by the league of women voters until '92. they let perot in, and he got 20%, and then the big corporations basically bought up the thing so that would never happen again so that we'd have two, um, establishment candidates, corporate america, i
guess upper 1% is the current cliche. we'd have -- >> host: all right. you know what? glenn, we've got a lot of information there. let's get an answer from mr. lehrer. >> guest: yeah. first of all, the debate commission just for the record here has a criteria for the candidates, and ross perot -- and the criteria have to do with how he's doing in the polls, candidate's doing in the polls. my recollection is, here again, the moderator doesn't have anything to do with this, but i think you have to be 15% or more in the polls to be considered a major candidate and make it into those debates. and that, here again, the moderator has nothing to do with that. in terms of what is a debate and what's not a debate, that's all in the eye of the beholder. my own view is, look, if you've got candidates for major office, particularly president of the united states on the same stage at the same time talking about the same thing, the format is almost irrelevant. a lot of people say, oh, my god, we've got to go back to the
lincoln/douglas debates. the opening statements were an hour and a half, and each of them had an hour rebuttal. those things went on for six and seven hours. that is not, that is not my definition of a debate. and people think they know what a debate is because of in high school or something like that. there have been very, very few what i would call pure debates where there wasn't a moderator, somebody asking questions. >> host: jim lehrer, you write about this in "tension city," but the time ahead of the debate before it get cans started when everybody's sitting around waiting and c-span cameras are on at that point, and you're just all kind of sitting there. what do you write about when you talk about that in "tension city"? >> guest: well, what i always do when i -- in a hall you've got 6, 700 people, some of them not audience, not a town hall, they're just in the audience. chosen or selected or permitted to be there representing
candidates or whatever, whatever reason or local people in the community. what i always tell 'em, right, before the debate begins, hey, look, you are not here to participate in this debate, and i'm very ruthless about it. and i tell 'em, look, you want to hiss and boo and applaud, you want to do anything like that, don't do it because if you do, i'm going to stop the debate, i'm going to turn around, i'm going to humiliate you in front of everybody you've ever known in your life, and i'll take names. and it's all kind of fun and games, but i always designate -- i remember one year, one debate i designated barbara bush to monitor the noise. there was not a peep out of anybody. and, because the debate commission and the candidates, we all -- and the moderators all agree that, that this is for the television audience, for the voters of america. this is not an event that is being televised for the benefit of the people in the hall. they are there at as the privild
few to observe from close up, but they are not to participate. and i make that crystal clear. and all of that has been on c-span. because y'all's cameras pick that up when they, when the opening -- there's always the people who run the debate commission and a representative, the college or whatever, they always make welcoming remarks, and then they turn it over to the moderator, and i am, i have, i have set a standard, i hope, they can maintain of keeping people quiet during the debates. >> host: next call comes from diane in flippen, arkansas. hi, diane, you're on booktv. >> caller: oh, hi. i want to make one statement if you'll let me, please, before i get to the issue that i called about. don't cut me off, if you will. i, i think it's just a shame that with all the information we have out there with our media, the internet and everything why
more people, why we really even hardly have to have debates in this age and time. because there's so much out there, it's not like it was in the years before tv and all. and why people don't, why they don't know the candidates before. that's just a statement. i think it says something about either our schools don't get the people, children civics-minded or whatever. >> host: okay, diane, we got that, now, did you have a question as well for mr. lehrer? >> caller: this has bugged me for almost 20 years about president bush looking at his wash during the debate. i took it that he was saying how much time do i have left to get to the issues i want to talk about, or have i stressed enough? i didn't want take it, him looking at his watch, like the press did, like, oh, well, will
this finally ever get over? and a lot -- >> host: all right, diane. we got the point. we've got to let you go. mr. lehrer writes about that issue in "tension city." so the need for debates in the today's media world and the 1992 watch incident. >> guest: i think they're separate and apart. i think the needs for debates is as strong as it's ever been because of so much information out there. the debates are the only time you have a comparative situation. you actually have whether it's in a primary debate or a general election debate, you have the candidates on the same stage talking, moving, talking about issues, reacting to questions, all of that sort of stuff. and it works on two levels. it's the body language, but it's also the spoken language. and i think the comparative situation is real, and i think it's important in the process. and it is, yes, there's all kinds of information. in fact, in some ways because there's so much information, the debates become even more
important because then you kind of take that final measure of the individuals, and you say, hey, can i imagine this person sitting at a table in the oval office deciding -- reacting to another katrina? reacting to another 9/11? making decisions about sending meshes into -- americans into harm's way? and it's all about who these people are as individuals, it's presidential temperament, all that stuff that you also get in addition to that material that -- i agree with her that a lot of material comes out ahead of time, and that's terrific. the more the merrier. so that's my answer to that. >> host: and the 1992 watch-looking -- >> guest: the watch thing. i did talk to, i was fortunate, as you know, to be able to talk to most of all the candidates, presidential, vice presidential -- >> host: only al gore didn't talk to you. >> guest: lloyd benson was ill, and i was not able to talk to him, but this was over a 20-year period. anyway, talked to them one-on-one about their debate
experiences. and what george h.w. bush said to me, i asked him, i said, hey, tell me about the watch thing. and he said, well, he said, yeah, yeah, yeah, i looked at my watch. big deal. that means i'm not qualified to be president of the united states? you look at your watch on television, and you're not qualified to be president of the united states? and i said, you know, a follow up this was for television, for a documentary, and i said -- the it's cameras were running, and i said, well, mr. president, some people said you wanted to know when the thing was going to be over, and he said, you're right, i wanted to know when this damn thing was going to be over. and he said, you can put that in your documentary. and i said, mr. president, we just did. [laughter] >> host: ralph in chicago, you're on with jim lehrer, we're talking about presidential debates. mr. lehrer's most recent book, "tension city." >> caller: yes, please, thanks. general schwarzkopf said at the end of the first world war that
he won the battle but not the war. the king of arabia asked the oracle at delphi whether he should attack the persian empire, and the oracle responded if you attacks, you will see the destruction of a great empire. so he attacked and saw the destruction of his own empire -- >> host: tell you what, ralph, if you have a question for mr. lehrer about presidential debates, go ahead and ask it or we're going to have to move on. >> caller: yeah. why not debate the history of war in the middle east or 20 conquerors of iraq and of palestine? >> host: mr. lehrer, this kind of goes back to format. >> guest: well, sure, and, i mean, any question can be asked if it becomes an issue. i believe debates should be about issues already in front of the american public and ma matter at that -- that matter at that moment in time. and that question could certainly be asked in a
presidential debate if it were relevant at that moment. >> host: mr. lehrer, what about technical problems as the moderator? >> guest: well, technical problems go with the territory. i've had every, i've had -- i've lost audio in my ear, as you know, there are, you know, directors and executive producers that need to tell you certain things, hopefully not very much. i've lost audio. one time, in fact, it was 2008 they had a cover over the teleprompter because they didn't want to show it at the very beginning where i was to say good evening from oxford, mississippi. they had a black cloth over the teleprompter, and they forgot to take it off. so fortunately, i know how to say good evening, i'm jim lehrer -- [laughter] i had memorized that. also, i had the written script, so i got away with it. but you could tell i'm looking down there for a moment. but there's always, there are always -- some of the cues, the lighting cues, the timing cues
are colored lightbulbs, green, yellow and red, and you can miss sometimes those things can go wrong. everything can go wrong. it will. the biggest, you know, remember in 1976 gerald ford/jimmy carter, they lost audio altogether for 27 minutes. and two of them just stood there. >> host: they didn't talk to each other. >> guest: they didn't talk to each other, they wouldn't sit down. edwin newman was the moderator, and he said, you know, i offered to give them chairs, and they wouldn't even acknowledge that i offered to give them chairs so they could sit down. each one of them was so afraid they would show weakness. and i talked to both of them afterwards in those post-debate interviews, and they both agreed this was not their finest hour, and they both deserved to be marked down, so to speak, about leadership, etc., as a result of their -- >> host: was it completely uncomfortable in the hall? >> guest: oh, yeah. yeah, i mean, it was crazy. nobody knew, nobody knew what to do.
they kept saying, well, they're going to fix it any moment. well, that was 27 minutes later. >> host: j.t. tweets in, how likely is a debate format like the tv series "west wing" where the candidates agree on the fly to suspend the rules? >> guest: well, that was all -- i happen to -- well, i think that's very unlikely. i think it's too much, too risky. i doubt -- it may happen, but in order for it to happen, you'd have to have two or three candidates, let's say two candidates who are completely at ease about their debate technique, completely at ease about what they know and don't know and are willing to just go at it. and do not want the restriction and don't need the restriction of time, time cues and all of that. thus far, there vice president been any -- there haven't been any. i did one in '92 for 45 minutes that was not that restricted,
that was among jrnlg h.w. bush, bill clinton and ross perot. it scared everybody so much, there hasn't been any repeat of that since where you just kind of went at it. >> host: do you write your own opening statements? do you have full editorial control over that? >> guest: full editorial control of opening statements, certainly full editorial control of all questions. nobody -- no questions are run by anybody, certainly nobody in the, that has anything to do with the candidates or whatever, not by the debate commission, not by anybody. it is -- the moderator clearly is holding dynamite in the his or her own hands. >> host: in "tension city" there's another player in the book. her name is kate. who is kate, and ha's her role in the debate? >> guest: kate is my wife, and because i've always been so spooked by the fact that if anybody got any advance word of what questions might be asked
that would be terrific intelligence, i always lock down everybody, i just quit talking to anybody including staff of "newshour" about questions i'm working on about five days before a debate if there's enough time. so i don't run 'em by anybody. so when i finally get to the end, you know, sometimes a few hours beforehand or whatever, usually the day, the only person i run 'em by is my wife kate. and she's looking for apples and oranges questions, questions that don't make sense, that sort of thing. and she, she expresses herself very openly to me, and as i say in the book, i always take her every suggestion. [laughter] she does not believe. but at any rate, she's the, she's the one who always reminds me to -- and she did in that first debate that, hey, you think you're nervous, just look what it's like for those candidates standing out there knowing one grimace, one gesture, one word can, they can
lose the presidency. and kate's the one who keeps me grounded. >> host: next call for jim lehrer comes from susan in casper, wyoming. susan, you're on booktv. go ahead. >> caller: oh, thank you so very, very much for taking my call. i have a great respect for mr. lehrer. i have a question about, um, future debates in this election cycle. um, if it would be possible to ask the candidates questions about the penn state situation. and the reason i bring this up is because in my experience i have found that money seems to buy protection from prosecution. um, just like in the penn state situation, i have been in a battle for ten years to protect the children of casper, wyoming, from an ongoing incestuous chul
pedophilia family. >> host: all right. we're going to leave it there, susan. mr. lehrer, would a penn state question, would that be a question you would ask as a moderator? >> guest: well, it all depends. it would depend on when the debate was held. it's like september, october, depending on what the news was at the time about the penn state thing, it could be relevant, it might not fit. in terms of relevance. when you look, because the -- it's kind of the old-fashioned inverted pyramid when it comes to judging what's important enough to ask in a presidential debate. it's very possible that the penn state thing could be in there, it's also quite possible it might not be. you couldn't make that decision now. >> host: is there a question and a time that you've done debates that you would take back? >> guest: was something i did? oh, sure. i missed a time cue with george h.w. bush and stopped him in the middle of an answer. and when i finally was corrected, i said, oh, i'm sorry, mr. vice president, go
ahead, and he said, i forgot what i was saying. [laughter] and i wanted to fall through the floor on that one. there are, but other than that, a few technical things like that, there is no particular -- maybe i've put them out of my mind. but there are no particular times that i feel truly embarrassed and my face reddens when i think back on that, oh, my god, i blew -- because i've been always driven by the idea, the central idea here that i don't want to do anything that effects the outcome of a debate, much less the presidency of the united states. because the moderator shouldn't be that involved. moderator should be invisible. and i think for the most part i have succeeded in being mostly invisible. >> host: do you prefer -- well, you've done both singular moderator and panel moderator. >> guest: right. >> host: what are the strengths and weaknesses of each? >> guest: well, the weakness of the panel moderator, the panel format is that there are usually
no follow-ups. i mean, each panelist comes up with a question, and they just ask them one right after another. and the moderator in the old days got to ask one opening question, and that was it. the rest of the time he or she was the traffic cop for all practical purposes. the, the strength of that, of the panelist thing is that there are more people involved, more perspectives involved in the formulation of questions and whatever. the strengths and weaknesses of the single moderator are, as i've said, you've got an awful lot riding, you've got an awful lot on your shoulders as the moderator and nobody to help you, nobody to share it with. that's the downside. and if you have a bad moderator, there's no way to compensate. i mean, you're stuck. it's gone. going right in front of you. and if moderator loses it, there's nobody to kind of help
fill it out. the upside is with a single moderator, a single moderator can control the flow, editorial flow even with no matter what the rules are. and you can figure out ways to bring an -- expand the dialogue on the subject and all that sort of stuff. so, i mean, there are pros -- there are ups and downs for both of them. >> host: now that you've written "tension city," does that indicate you will not be participating in the 2012? >> guest: absolutely. i wouldn't have written the book if i was going to do another debate. if i was even invited to do it, it's because i didn't want anybody to say, well, you know, you wrote so and so, you know? this was one decision. the decision to write the week was also the -- the book was also the same decision, i'm not going to do any more debates. >> host: bill in san diego, you're on booktv on c-span2 with jim lehrer. >> caller: thank you. does the presence of fringe
candidates in the primary debates discourage more substantial candidates from running? >> guest: you know, i don't think so, bill. i think, this is my own private view here, my own personal view. i think the purpose, we've got to keep in mind what i think the purpose of the primary debate is, that is to weed the field. how are you going to weed the field if you don't see the field? and you ought to see the field equally, in my opinion. and there's plenty of debates. so there were 40 primary debates in 2008, there have already been i don't know how many just on -- with two parties in 2008, i don't know how many, i can't remember, but six or seven already, and there are probably going to be six or seven more, if not more than that in the republican debates this time. i think it's just really good for the system. it nationalizes the nominating process. in the old days before there were primary debates, the candidates just did their electioneering in new hampshire,
iowa and south carolina. and now the whole country is watching as this process unfolds, and you've got -- these are national, these are now national contests whether anybody likes it or not for the nomination. and i think they're a good thing, and you need to have everybody up there, and i frankly believe they all should be treated equally at this stage of the game, and they shouldn't be there based on positions based on their polls and all of that. that's my own view of it. >> host: jim lehrer, in your view as a watcher and now historical observer, was the 1960 kennedy/nixon debate successful? >> guest: oh, certainly, it was. it was successful in that it, first of all, established the precedent, it was successful in that you saw, you accomplished what was impossible before which was to see people, the two candidates, side by side, as i say, talking about the same things. you got to see now -- there's always, when the television
camera is there, there are certain things you're going to see that you wish you didn't have to see. particularly, for instance, richard nixon perspiring. a lot of people, oh, look, he's nervous. well, the fact of the matter is he got out of a sick bed, and he had fever, and it was in a tv studio in chicago. it wasn't before an audience. the lights were hot, and he had perspiration over his lip. kennedy didn't perspire. and it goes back to the old idea that the people who listen to that debate on the radio thought nixon won, and people who saw it on television thought kennedy won. so you can argue that one up one side and down the other. but the fact is we are now in a television age, and there's no turning that one back. and if a person running for president of the united states cannot stand before a tv camera and speak fluently, in such a way that you can explain difficult positions and all of that, he or she is not going to
be elected president. it is one of the skills required, like it or not. >> host: why was it so many years before another presidential debate was held after that? >> guest: well, because we had incumbent presidents. one was richard nixon, and the other was lyndon johnson. and, actually, it was the other way around, sorry. anyhow, they were incumbents. they were way ahead in the polls, and they had no reason to debate, and they just said no. there was no way of putting pressure on them. and the only reason they started again in 1976 was because gerald ford, who was the incumbent but, he was 20 points behind. and i interviewed him about this. i asked him, why did you do? he said, it was the only chance i had to gain ground on jimmy carter. because otherwise going the regular way wasn't going the work. so he challenged carter to the debate which was unheard of. and carter agreed. and he, they came within three points. i mean, it worked from -- then ford, of course, had a problem
in one of the debates where he said the soviet union didn't dominate eastern europe. that hurt him. but, basically, the debates helped him gain ground big time on, on carter. and, but more importantly, it established the fact of presidential debates. there were, you know, and no candidate now could ever, ever say, no, no, no, i'm not, i'm not going to do presidential debates. you've got to run. you've got to participate. >> host: and jim lehrer writes about all of these stories that he's telling us in "tension city." his newest book. how many books have you written? >> guest: 23. >> host: how many nonfiction, how many fiction? >> guest: three nonfiction, 20 fiction. >> host: why? >> guest: gotta stay busy, man. [laughter] no, it's just what i do. it's a natural act to me to write, and i get fidgety when i'm not writing. it's not a, it's not something that i'm -- it's just what i do. i'm just so comfortable a