Page 3 Profile: Jim Lehrer, Presidential debate moderator


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The Independent Online

America's David Dimbleby?

Television news in the US is a largely hysterical affair, with news pundits selected for their looks, their ability to tap into middle America and their nous for turning a seemingly innocuous news segment into a fiery argument. For more than 30 years, the calm centre of this hullaballoo was Jim Lehrer, the former host of PBS Newshour. The 78-year-old stepped down from his role as news anchor last year, though he still helps with aspects of the show's production. He's also renowned for hosting Presidential debates, and tonight will chair the first encounter between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney – an event expected to secure up to 70 million viewers.

He must be delighted

Lehrer first served as umpire in 1988, and has since been called up by the Commission on Presidential Debates a further 11 times. Though he has expressed his enthusiasm for the Romney-Obama battle, he has grown rather wary. "It's a rough, rough world – I know that," he said. "And those of us who have decided to play in that world have to play by those rules. I'm susceptible to the same smears as anyone else." The moderators are subject to stinging criticism from both sides if they appear to favour a candidate.

Why was Lehrer chosen yet again?

Because even in this cut-throat world, he is so well respected for his impartiality. His colleague Robert MacNeil said: "His idea of fairness is fiercer than anyone's – he has an almost religious respect for being fair. He stays so far out of the political swamps that he doesn't even vote." NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said Lehrer "reeks integrity". He's very safe, and is happiest when adding to his collection of bus memorabilia.

What questions will he ask?

The debate lasts for 90 minutes, and is restricted to domestic policy. Lehrer has chosen to focus half the allotted time on the economy, with the rest allocated to health care, and the rather more woolly "role of government" and "governing". Polling suggests Americans will be surprised if Obama doesn't "win" the debate.