Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain

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9780307878441: Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain
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NARRATED BY THE AUTHOR, THIS SPECIAL AUDIOBOOK RECORDING OF TENSION CITY INCLUDES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW AND DEBATE EXCERPTS FROM 1960 THROUGH 2008!

“In his quiet but intense way, Jim Lehrer earns the trust of the major political players of our time,” notes Barbara Walters. “He explains and exposes their hopes and dreams, their strengths and failures as they try to put their best foot forward.”

From the man widely hailed as “the Dean of Moderators” comes a lively and revealing book that pulls back the curtain on more than forty years of televised political debate in America. A veteran newsman who has presided over eleven presidential and vice-presidential debates, Jim Lehrer gives readers a ringside seat for some of the epic political battles of our time, shedding light on all of the critical turning points and rhetorical faux pas that helped determine the outcome of America’s presidential elections—and with them the course of history. Drawing on his own experiences as “the man in the middle seat,” in-depth interviews with the candidates and his fellow moderators, and transcripts of key exchanges, Lehrer isolates and illuminates what he calls the “Major Moments” and “killer questions” that defined the debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain.

Oftentimes these moments involve the candidates themselves and are seared into our collective political memory. Michael Dukakis stumbles badly over a question about the death penalty. Dan Quayle compares himself to John F. Kennedy once too often. Barack Obama and John McCain barely make eye contact over the course of a ninety-minute discussion. At other times, the debate moderators themselves become part of the story—and Lehrer is there to give us a backstage look at the drama. Peter Jennings suggests surprising the candidates by suspending the carefully negotiated rules minutes before the 1988 presidential debate—to the consternation of his fellow panelists. Lehrer himself weathers a firestorm of criticism over his performance as moderator of the 2000 Bush-Gore debate. And then there are the excruciating moments when audio lines go dead and TelePrompTers stay dark just seconds before going on the air live in front of a worldwide television audience of millions.

Asked to sum up his experience as a participant in high-level televised debates, President George H. W. Bush memorably likened them to an evening in “tension city.” In Jim Lehrer’s absorbing insider account, we find out that truer words were never spoken.

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A Letter from Author Jim Lehrer

"Someday I’m going to write a book about it all."

I had been saying that to family and friends for years, about my experiences moderating presidential and vice presidential debates. It was not that I believed I had anything deep or important to say, but I knew I had collected--lived through--a few stories that might be worth recounting. I had also interviewed, on videotape, nearly all of the candidates who participated in those high-pressure, nationally-televised encounters about their experiences.

It was in such a chat with former President George H. W. Bush that I got the line that eventually ended up being the title of book.

“Those big time things... they’re Tension City, Jim.”

I decided that, along with the stories and interviews, I would also sprinkle in some bits of advice to the various players in debates.

Most were fairly obvious. Candidates, answer the question. Whatever else you do, respond directly to what you were asked. Yes, tell an anecdote from your childhood, or put it in historical context, but do it after having answered the question.

Moderators spend some time in front of a mirror before a debate saying out loud, “This is not about me. This debate is not about me. It is about the candidates, not the moderator. ” Ask direct, simple questions. Stay away for all gotcha questions and beware of hypotheticals. Do your homework not in order to prepare great questions but to be relaxed and informed enough to listen to the answers.

I also wanted to make the case about how important these nationally televised debates are to the process of choosing the people who will run the country.

As for timing, I decided that moderating my eleventh, the first Obama-McCain debate in 2008, would be my last. If asked to do another in 2012, I would decline on the grounds that others have the opportunity to do good and/or bad for our democracy in front of millions of people.

So. I was free to write this book. That “someday” had arrived.

About the Author:

Jim Lehrer is the anchor and executive editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and the author of numerous novels, nonfiction books, and plays. He was a 1999 recipient of a National Humanities Medal for his journalism and writing. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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9780812981438: Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates

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ISBN 10:  081298143X ISBN 13:  9780812981438
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