A HISTORY OF TELEVISED PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES, Professor Jill Lepore has a history of televised presidential debates in the New Yorker (September 19). From the beginning in 1960 the candidates have been preoccupied with negotiating the format, showing their awareness that television was a visual medium. For the first debate in 1960 the issue of whether reaction shots would be permitted was negotiated. Through the years, there have been negotiations over whether there would be lecterns or would the candidates be seated at a table. When the candidates used stools, there was an issue of how high the stools would be (1992). There was the “belt buckle principle” in 1976—the lecterns intersected the torsos of the candidates so that neither appeared to be the taller. In 1988, the issue was whether the shorter candidate could stand on a box (he was allowed to).
In 2012 both candidates overruled the moderator—Jim Lehrer—and insisted on lecterns rather than a table. I posted here in 2008 about how in that year, Lehrer had been the moderator of the first Presidential debate and had kept urging the two candidates to “Talk to each other”. He was unsuccessful. I suggested In my 2008 post that “our authoritative newscasters look at the camera.” and that that is what candidates are advised to do.