Jim Lehrer’s load of pure crap: We lost a lot of respect for Jim Lehrer during the 2000 debates.
Over the weekend, we read his groaningly awful new book, “Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates, from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain.” Our assessment of this insider icon grew considerably worse.
In his book, Lehrer discusses what it’s like to moderate presidential debates. The book is deeply revealing but truly awful, especially if you understand the background to the events he describes.
For today, consider one astonishing claim Lehrer makes in his book.
A bit of background: Over the weekend, we watched Lehrer’s hour-long session with Gloria Borger on C-Span’s “After Words” program. Borger is a consummate insider hack, of course. For that reason, she was assigned to chat with Lehrer about his gruesome new book.
Borger met her match in Lehrer. To watch their full hour, click this.
Early on, Lehrer tells Borger about the first Bush-Gore debate—a history-changing event which occurred eleven years ago tonight. Needless to say, he builds his discussion around the very bad way Candidate Gore behaved. It’s one of the press corps’ favorite tales—and Lehrer really knows how to tell it.
Speaking with Borger, Lehrer stresses how close he sat to the two candidates on the debate stage that night. He also says that, whenever he moderates a debate, he only looks at the candidate who is speaking. After this prelude, Lehrer starts telling Borger about Gore’s deeply disgraceful behavior. What follows only sets the stage for the larger howler to come:
LEHRER (7/18/11): At any rate, to make a long story short, I would ask a question of Bush, and Bush would be giving an answer and Gore would [makes noise] “Aaaah.” He started sighing.Logic is rarely allowed to intrude on this fraternal order’s prime tales. Question:
BORGER: Oh, the sighing!
LEHRER: Remember that? You know, he got going like that. Well, that hurt him terribly. Because the public saw that, because they had split screen coverage then and— But when it was all over, I’m walking out of the hall with my family and one of my daughters says, “Oh Dad, that was, that was incredible what Gore did!” And I just stopped and I said, “What did Gore do?” And she talked, mentioned about the sighing and the grimacing and all that. I didn’t see any of that.
If Candidate Gore was sighing so much, and if Lehrer was sitting so close to Gore, then why didn’t Lehrer hear all those sighs? Gloria knew she mustn’t ask, and Jimbo didn’t tell us.
But then, Lehrer and Borger joined forces to crank out what follows. Truly, this is astounding—an insult to simple history:
LEHRER (continuing directly): But it was a perfect case. People who listened to that on the radio thought Gore won that debate hands on [sic]. People who watched it on television thought—Is there a bigger hack on the planet? As even Lehrer and Borger must know, Gore was judged the winner of the debate in all five overnight polls of TV viewers, by an average margin of ten points. Presumably, even a pair like Lehrer and Borger must know that bone-simple fact. But who cares? They agreed to compare this important event to the first Kennedy-Nixon debate, in which (urban legend alert!) all good hacks have always said that radio listeners thought Nixon won, while TV viewers picked Dear Jack because Nixon looked so awful.
BORGER: Kennedy-Nixon? Didn’t that, didn’t that happen the same way?
LEHRER: Kennedy-Nixon. Exactly. Kennedy-Nixon, it’s exactly the same parallel.
In fact, there is no serious evidence supporting this famous old claim, one of the hoariest tales in all of American politics. But let’s get back to the basic point here: Among people who watched the first Bush-Gore debate, Candidate Gore was judged the winner in all five overnight polls. But here was Lehrer, saying that Gore’s horrible conduct caused him to lose the debate among TV viewers.
Surely, Lehrer knows that isn’t true. Please! Tell us he actually knows that!
Naturally, this exchange made us wonder if Lehrer makes this same bizarre claim in his book. And so, we made it our business to look. Jim Lehrer is a very bad person:
LEHRER (page 94): I didn’t want any candidate to use eye contact with me as a way to transmit his own reactions.Truly, that’s incredible. But there it is, in this bad person’s book. By the way:
So, despite being the closest person in the room, I ended up missing what turned out to be the most important story of that debate.
Through the television device of a split screen, the world watched as Gore on that October 3 evening expressed disgust and displeasure with Bush’s answers.
Gore sighed heavily and repeatedly. He shook his head, frowned, rolled his eyes, and sneered. And—one thing I did know for sure—he also violated the time limits for questions and responses, violated the polite pleas of the moderator, and, generally, came across as overbearing—unlikable.
That, at least, was the consensus reaction from even his own supporters as well as much of the public. Gore was judged the clear loser in the debate, based almost entirely on his body language and not on what he actually said. As with the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, radio listeners came away with an almost entirely different impression than that of those who watched it on television.
In that account, Lehrer adds a second load of standard press bullshit, suggesting that Gore just wouldn’t stop talking during that first debate. In fact, word-counts showed that Bush spoke considerably more words than Gore that night. It’s hard to know how that could have happened if Gore constantly “violated the time limits for questions and responses, violated the polite pleas of the moderator.” But this claim—the claim that Gore just kept interrupting—quickly became another press lie. To see Jeff Greenfield’s extremely bad conduct with respect to this point, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/30/01. (Details below. In that post, we were reviewing Greenfield’s fantasy-laden book about Campaign 2000.)
There’s a great deal more in Lehrer’s new book, including a fairly obvious explanation for the way Lehrer has kept disparaging Gore over the past ten years. Darlings! Gore’s people dared to complain about Lehrer’s conduct as moderator! For the record, this misconduct stretched back to the 1996 debates, and on into 2004.
We’ll return to this book in the next week or do. We think it reveals a great deal, in various ways, about the people who comprise our multimillionaire “press corps.” Lehrer’s fatuous notions are on full display, along with his gruesome bad judgment and his blatant dishonesty.
It isn’t a pretty picture. But then, multimillionaire cultural icons tend to end up that way.
More about Greenfield’s account: In the old post we link to above, we gave you the word count for the long exchange in that first debate about Bush’s prescription drug plan. Total words spoken during that segment: Bush 1091, Gore 682—and we include the full transcript for that discussion, so you can see for yourself. But go back and look at the way Greenfield tried to make you think that Gore just wouldn’t shut up during that segment. The notion that Gore just wouldn’t shut up was already a standard part of the fraternal order’s tale.
That said, even Greenfield felt he had to admit the basic fact that Gore won every overnight poll. Here’s how he explained that problem away:
GREENFIELD (page 194): Yes, the instant polls showed a narrow Gore victory. But it was the kind of victory the villainous wrestler scores with a questionable chokehold. A lot of voters were saying, "Yeah, he won— but I don’t like that guy.”Oh. And please note that ten points became “narrow.”
By now, Lehrer feels free to reinvent even the most basic facts about that event. But this is how these people function. And fiery liberals have rarely said boo.
Darlings! Jim Lehrer is powerful! The Gore folk complained about Lehrer’s misconduct. And look what Jim’s doing to him!