Read my lips. No more debates.
Jim Lehrer didn’t use those words, but he might as well have. Lehrer’s November pronouncement that he would never host another presidential debate, like George H. W. Bush’s 1988 promise of no new taxes, turned out to be far from absolute.
With one major difference, according to PBS’s Lehrer. “There were consequences for him. There are no consequences for me.”
Lehrer will moderate the first Obama-Romney debate, Oct. 3 in Denver. It will be the 12th such event for Lehrer, 78, who last year retired as anchor of “NewsHour.” (For the first time since 1972, he won’t be the face of PBS at the national conventions.)
When members of the Commission of Presidential Debates asked Lehrer to re-consider, he said, Shermanesquely: “If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.” When the group pitched a new debate format, however, ‘never’ became too long to wait.
Despite the 180, Lehrer insists his conscience is clear.
“I have no regrets about saying what I did, or about changing my mind,” he says. “I am a regret-free person. I meant it when I said it at the time. I had no idea there would be a new format. Life is an ever-changing windstorm, and I’m a part of life.
“I didn’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I want to moderate a presidential debate.’ There was a long, long buildup. I didn’t change. The circumstances changed. I wouldn’t have considered it for any other reason.”
The selection of Lehrer, along with that of CBS’s Bob Schieffer, CNN’s Candy Crowley and ABC’s Martha’s Raddatz has drawn heavy criticism from blacks and Hispanics for its absence of racial diversity. Others have accused the moderators of being too liberal and/or too mainstream.
To Lehrer, with half a century in the news business, it’s all background noise.