There are many respected journalists who could moderate the presidential debates, but few possess the heft and gravitas of Jim Lehrer. As such, it is appropriate that Lehrer be the moderator of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney. It can be easily argued that the first debate is always the most important one.
For decades Lehrer has proven to be media savvy, intellectually curious, and objective about the issues and politicians he interacts with. There are few faces in broadcast journalism that carry as much credibility as Lehrer does.
Jim Lehrer wrote about debates and his past roles as moderator in the 2012 paperback update to his memoir, “Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates” (writing before he had been selected for tonight): “I strongly recommend that it be standard practice to advise debate hall audiences in advance that they are expected to remain absolutely silent during a debate. They are invited guests, not participants. The moderator should remind the would-be cheerleaders and boobirds of the rules and enforce them when necessary. That has been the long-established practice in the fall general election debates. … There have been thirty-five nationally television presidential and vice presidential debates, counting [the] first one in 1960 [Kennedy-Nixon] and the last four in 2008.
“All the moderators have been broadcast journalists except one – Chicago Sun-Times editor James Hoge in 1976. There have been several repeaters: Howard K. Smith of CBS and ABC, Edwin Newman of NBC, Barbara Walters of ABC, Bernard Shaw of CNN, Bob Schieffer of CBS, my PBS colleague Gwen Ifill, and I account for twenty-one [now 22] of the thirty-five [now 36] moderating assignments. … The first … was for a 1988 debate between Vice President George H.W. Bush and Governor Michael Dukakis in Winston-Salem.”