Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV
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Drawing on his own experience as an award-winning reporter and TV producer and through illuminating interviews with journalists and producers who have worked on presidential debates, Alan Schroeder sheds new light on every debate from 1960 to the present. From the selection of questioners to the camera angles, from issues of makeup to lighting and stage set, Schroeder shows how decisions are made that influence every aspect of what the audience perceives. Presidential Debates: Forty Years of High-Risk TV takes readers on a fascinating backstage tour, approaching the debates within the framework of the fundamental steps to which TV producers adhere: preproduction, production, and postproduction. Calling upon behind-the-scenes stories from seven campaign seasons, Schroeder illustrates how the live component of the debates, far from diminishing dramatic potential, increases our anticipation -not least because of viewer curiosity to watch one candidate make a grave error and go down in flames. </I>Presidential Debates</I> illuminates such details as: · the elaborate attempts to offset height discrepancies between candidates, such as the "belt buckle compromise" between Carter and Ford mandating the height of the candidates´ respective podiums; · the full story behind debate moderator Bernard Shaw´s infamous question to Michael Dukakis about his wife being hypothetically raped and murdered; and · the calculation and faux-spontaneity of Reagan´s influential quip, "There you go again," which effectively dismissed Carter´s pointed accusations about health care. With innumerable behind-the-scenes stories about the candidates, their advisers, the on-air correspondents, the producers, and other backstage lore, Schroeder illustrates how, like all forms of television, debates combine artifice with truth. An unusual blend of civics and show biz, the presidential debates are revealed here as both carefully scripted rituals and opportunities for the totally unexpected.
“risky scheme”—“a zillion times,” according to ABC’s Sam Donaldson, who said the vice president seemed to be “reading a teleprompter in his mind.” Lisa Myers on NBC described Gore as a “digitalized telephone operator,”70 while other critics reached for unflattering metaphors of their own. Instead of reinforcing his point, Al Gore’s transparently predigested rhetoric became the object of ridicule. d e bate b o ot c a m p A lasting legacy of the Kennedy-Nixon “Great Debates” is the immersion of
the strategizing and contrivance and plotting, what human qualities get lost? On the eve of the San Diego town hall debate between Bob Dole and Bill Clinton, Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich was asked what advice she would give Dole in using the debate to stage a comeback. Her answer is eminently reasonable, if just as far-fetched: I would tell him to get rid of all his debate advisers, to burn the briefing books, to kick out all the people who are scripting him. . . . What are the two
portray their candidate as an ineffectual debater, especially in contrast to Michael Dukakis, who had moderated a public affairs series called The Advocates on Boston’s prestigious WGBH-TV. “We capitalized on that, frankly,” Bush campaign manager James Baker later admitted, “and the vice president was perfectly willing for us to do that. It wasn’t an insult to his manhood for us to go out and say,‘Hey, wait a minute. Our guy’s not that good a debater.’ He basically let us go out and trash his
Mudd interviewed half a dozen senators from both sides of the aisle. The bulk of the thirteen-minute report was devoted to Quayle, who drew sharply incriminating comments from Democrat Alan Cranston. “I don’t think he has been taken seriously by his colleagues,” Cranston said. “Most senators have been laughing about the Predebate News Coverage nomination, Republicans with tears in their eyes, and they tell a lot of jokes about him. Their private remarks are quite different than their public
the young JFK successfully grappled with senatorial opponent Henry Cabot Lodge in a joint appearance that aired live in Massachusetts. Eight years later, in the West Virginia presidential primary, Kennedy met Hubert Humphrey for a televised matchup that served as a dress rehearsal for the general election debates against Nixon. Media historian Erik Barnuow wrote that Kennedy “impressed viewers with the brevity and conciseness of his replies, an engaging wit, and apparent grasp of local issues.”3