SHOULD IT BE A DEBATE OR A PRESS CONFERENCE? In May, 2007, I made my view known here that the Ideal Debate would have no moderator at all and that time allocations for the candidates would be controlled by a bell. My Ideal Debate format is based on a debate between Mitterand and Giscard d’Estaing that I saw in 1981. I have always had a cynical view that journalists have played an important role in all the presidential debates because journalists wanted it that way. In light of Professor Lepore’s article, I have had to change my mind. She shows that for the first televised debate between Nixon and Kennedy, both candidates objected to a proposal that they question each other and insisted on taking questions from reporters. Lepore points out that this was a “parallel press conference.”
As Lepore recounts the history of debates, candidates have continued to prefer that there be a moderator, whether a panel or an individual. Lepore cites one example of a debate without a moderator between Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown. She quotes Paul Begala, the veteran political adviser, that: “It was as good a conversation as I have ever seen.” But that conversation was in 1992, over 20 years ago, and the format has not been used since.