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WASHINGTON--For 25 years, Jim Lehrer has been my friend and colleague on "PBS Newshour." He has been an exceptional journalist for more than twice that long. On Oct. 3 in Denver, Jim Lehrer will break his own indoor-outdoor mark and establish a new world's record when he moderates for the 12th time a U.S. presidential debate.
Because Lehrer both completely appreciates and accepts that presidential debates are about the nominees and not about the moderator or the panelists, nobody is better at doing what he does. The oft-overlooked asset Lehrer brings to this pressure-cooker assignment is the ability to pay complete attention to the answers being given.
In "Tension City," his book written from inside the presidential debates, he gives us his favorite made-up example of the interviewer who fails to listen to the answer:
Just because I am never going to be invited to ask questions in a presidential debate does not mean that I do not have some questions I would like to ask President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. Here are a few, which I concede are not as classy or fair as the ones Jim Lehrer will pose.
If you had complete assurance that it would be ratified, what one amendment to the Constitution would you propose?
During the 2012 campaign, both of you have spent virtually no real time at all (other than to raise campaign money) talking to or listening to any voters in 42 of our 50 states. Virtually all your efforts, energy, and attention have been spent courting voters in the eight battleground states. Colorado voters matter, while Maine and Montana voters do not. Why shouldn't we abolish the Electoral College so that every American's vote will matter and count the same?
What is the national average price of a gallon of regular gasoline today?
During the time period from your own adolescence until today, what president of the other party do you most admire and why? (No "Abraham Lincoln" or "Harry Truman" cop-out answers allowed.)
When was the last time you visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington? If you haven't, why not?
What is your favorite children's book? Why?
What would be the reason--other than to avoid paying taxes to the U.S. Treasury--for depositing one's money in a Swiss bank or a Cayman Islands account instead of in an American bank?