Author News and Book Reports
Jim Lehrer packs his bags for 'Tension City' one more time
We caught up with famed journalist, executive editor and former news anchor for PBS NewsHour, Jim Lehrer twice last year, first at the 2011 BookExpo America, where he briefly introduced his new book Tension City, to booksellers, and then again later last year at the 2011 Miami Book Fair International, where he regaled an overflow audience of book lovers with behind-the-scenes stories of his life behind the microphone, beginning with his first job as a bus ticket agent and his role as presidential debate moderator. Lehrer, who has come to personify the quintessential presidential debate moderator after 11 election year debates beginning with the Bush-Dukakis debate in 1988, jumped swiftly into the substance of his book,offering the backstory of how President George W. Bush gave him the title for Tension City,which has just been released in paperback (Random House Trade Paperback; September, 2012)--in time for the first presidential debate of 2012. Recalling histerrible case of nerves before the 1988 presidential debate between Bush and Dukakis, featuring panelists John Mashek of the Atlanta Constitution, ABC-TV news anchor Peter Jennings, and Anne Groer of the Orlando Sentinel, Lehrer reflected on the significance of a candidate's temperament, citing the 1992 Bush-Clinton debate, during which George H.W. Bush famously checked his watch, and the 2000 Bush-Gore debate in which Vice-President rolled his eyes and sighed impatiently on camera while George W. Bush spoke. Lehrer next examined the extent to which presidential debate gaffes in content or substance influence election outcomes, such as the 1976 Ford-Carter debate in which President Gerald Ford said Poland was not behind the Soviet Iron Curtain. Turning to presidential primary debates, Lehrer compared the 2008 primaries, in which there were 40 debates, and 2012 primary debates, notably featuring Rick Perry, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain, who each took a turn at leading the Republican polls before being weeded out in the debates. Lehrer wrapped his presentation with questions from the audience on the moderator's role in presidential debates, whereupon he announced that he would not moderate a 2012 presidential debate, although we now know he will moderate the first 2012 debate on October 3, 2012, in Denver, Colorado, apparently reneging on his 2011 pledge to retire from the 'tension city' job; and the candidate's responsibility to answer questions, closing with an anecdote of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller's dismissal of any such responsibility. For those who are following the debates, CBS News Anchor and host of Face the Nation Bob Schieffer, who we last saw in person at the 2008 National Book Festival promoting his book mixing poems and politics, Bob Schieffer's America, will moderate the third 2012 presidential debate on Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.