Before there was Perry: Worst debates ever!


Jim Lehrer, the obvious winner: There’s no one on earth like the New York Times. Today, they prove it again.

In Wednesday night’s debate, Candidate Perry committed a bit of a gaffe—and yes, his gaffe was funny. Only the Times would respond with an equally comical news report about the “brain science” which explains such moments.

Here’s a sample of Tara Parker-Pope’s classic New York Timesism:
PARKER-POPE (11/11/11): When all goes well, the medial temporal lobe acts like a library’s card catalog system, pointing to the locations in the brain where different parts of the memory are stored and allowing the memory to be recalled. But in Mr. Perry’s case, it appears that something went wrong, and the search turned up the wrong card or looked in the wrong place or was interrupted.

The culprit could have been distraction, experts say. Just before the gaffe, Mr. Perry looked directly at his opponent Ron Paul, which suggests the glance may have disrupted his train of thought. Or it’s possible that Mr. Perry’s mind may have started moving ahead to his next point too quickly, leaving him muddled in the moment. Stress also can impair the function of the hippocampus, which is also involved in memory retrieval.
According to the Times, Candidate Perry may have been foiled by stress on the hippocampus! That shouldn't be confused with sunrise at Campobello.

In today's hard-copy Times, this is the featured news report in the "National" section. It eats up roughly half the page; it’s accompanied by a large color photograph, selected so Perry looks stupid. This perfectly fits the current Times model, in which the paper lets readers think they’re getting high-IQ material even as they're fed a diet of complete total pure abject nonsense.

Through such pseudo-news reports, the Times provides readers with little real news—but with a big mess of therapy. Signals are sent that the reader is smart. Elsewhere, this brainless paper sends similar signals about readers' lofty morality.

That’s the way the Times has reacted to the breakdown inside Perry’s campus. Elsewhere, cable “news” channel have responded with video segments letting us recall and relive the greatest debate gaffes of all time. Candidate Dukakis has ridden again, along with “you’re-no-Jack-Kennedy” Quayle and poor stupid Admiral Stockdale. Through these video features, these brainless life-forms keep us primed on the tales we’ve always been told.

Are these really the worst debate gaffes? You’ll note an omission in all such reports: When the press corps remembers the big debate blunders, the gaffes are all made by the candidates! The groaners committed by the own kind are left on the cutting-room floor! Once again, your gaze is directed away from the biggest clowns in our nation’s failing culture. In the interest of balance, we offer today the real biggest gaffes of all time.

Rather plainly, Jim Lehrer authored the worst debate performances of all time. That said, let’s start with his first runner-up, the ridiculous Bernie Shaw:

Bernie Shaw, 1988: It’s the grand-daddy of them all! We refer to Bernie Shaw’s amazingly tasteless question to Candidate Dukakis, in which he asked the governor to imagine how he’d respond if his wife was raped and murdered. In his new book, “Tension City,” Jim Lehrer describes the way Shaw’s fellow panelists, all women, pleaded with him before the debate not to ask such a tasteless question—or, at the very least, not to mention Kitty Dukakis by name.

No dice! Bernie knew best!

We think you know the rest of the story. From that day to this, the life-forms known as the mainstream press have criticized Dukakis for responding so poorly to this question. In the minds of this low-IQ group, Dukakis was supposed to vault the moderator’s table, punch Shaw in the nose, then describe the fury he would feel if his wife got mistreated like that.

Basic learnings: These are stupid, tasteless people. And they're eager to show it!

That said, let’s move on to the obvious winner—to the author of the worst debate performances of all time:

Jim Lehrer, 1996/2000/2004: Truthfully, Lehrer’s misconduct in these debates dwarfs that of all other contenders. Let’s start with the history-changing debates between Candidates Bush and Gore during Campaign 2000.

Unfortunately, Lehrer was in charge—and he had a large bug up his keister, like the bulk of that era’s “press corps.” As the first debate neared its end, he introduced its final topic—Candidate Gore’s troubling character. “New question,” Lehrer intoned. “Governor Bush, are there issues of character that distinguish you from Vice President Gore?” When Bush didn’t answer quite strongly enough, Lehrer helpfully pushed him along.

The entire final segment was devoted to Candidate Gore’s bad character.

This demonstrated amazing bad judgment by Lehrer, but he was willing to top it. Eight days later, Bush and Gore debated again—and Lehrer ended that second debate in the same darn way! Here’s the way he introduced that debate’s closing segment:
LEHRER (10/11/00): New question.

BUSH: Yes.

LEHRER: Last question for you, Governor. This flows out some—flows somewhat out of the Boston debate.

You, your running mate, your campaign officials have charged that Vice President Gore exaggerates, embellishes and stretches the facts, etc. Are you, do you believe these are serious issues—this is a serious issue that the voters should use in deciding which one of you two men to vote for on November 7?
Fueled by that question, the entire last segment focused again on Gore’s troubling character! In this case, the hapless Lehrer compounded the problem by making a factual error, falsely saying that one of Gore’s TV commercials was “calling the governor a bungler.” Out in the real world, there was no such ad, but Candidate Gore looked evasive as he confusedly answered. (This produced a laugh from the audience, at Gore’s expense.) Lehrer began the third debate by correcting his error, but the damage had been done.

Just to summarize: Each of the first two debates had ended with full segments in which the candidates were asked to discuss Al Gore’s character problems.

This represented astounding bad judgment by Lehrer. But it continued a pattern from the 1996 debates, a matter Lehrer weirdly discusses in his strange new book, Tension City. During that year’s first debate, Lehrer strangely explains in his book, he was concerned that Candidate Dole wasn’t raising the Clinton character issue strongly enough. In particular, Lehrer says he was concerned that Dole wasn’t hitting Clinton on the Gennifer Flowers matter.

It’s hard to know why Lehrer would make such an odd statement. The Flowers allegations surfaced in January 1992, long before that year’s presidential debates. Flowers was long since out of the news by the fall of 1996. But in his peculiar new book, Lehrer says that’s what he was thinking during the first 1996 debate. Frustrated, this is the question he asked as that debate neared its end:
LEHRER (10/7/96): Senator Dole, we've talked mostly now about differences between the two of you that relate to policy, issues and that sort of thing. Are there also significant differences in the more personal area that are relevant to this election?
In his weird new book, Lehrer expressly says that he asked this question so Dole could talk about Gennifer Flowers. When Dole basically laughed the question away, Lehrer kept trying to prompt him. (Next question: “Senator Dole, if you could single out one thing that you would like for the voters to have in their mind about President Clinton on a policy matter or a personal matter, what would it be?”)

As Lehrer explains in his book, he was disappointed that Dole didn’t hit Clinton hard enough on the character issue. Result? Three nights later, he started the vice presidential debate with this leading question for Candidate Kemp:
LEHRER (10/10/96): The order for everything was determined by a coin toss. There will be three-minute closing statements, but no opening statements. So, we go now to the first question, and to Mr. Kemp.

KEMP: Jim.

LEHRER: Some supporters of Senator Dole have expressed disappointment over his unwillingness in Hartford Sunday night to draw personal and ethical differences between him and President Clinton. How do you feel about it?
Incredible. In fact, a Nexis search finds very few people complaining about Dole’s reluctance, though Lehrer continues to makes this claim in his fact-challenged new book. (Does this guy redearch anything?)

In 1996, then in 2000, Lehrer had a very large bug up his keister. He behaved abominably, especially in 2000, when the debates almost surely turned the election. Incredibly, he whines and complains in his puzzling book about the way the Gore campaign criticized his conduct in those debates; he even complains about their nit-picking when they complained about his error concerning the Gore commercial which he had somehow imagined. And by the way: Lehrer continued this pattern in 2004! Near the end of the first Bush-Kerry debate, the great man posed this query:
LEHRER (9/30/04): New question, President Bush. Clearly, as we have heard, major policy differences between the two of you. Are there also underlying character issues that you believe, that you believe are serious enough to deny Senator Kerry the job as commander in chief of the United States?
“That's a loaded question,” Bush correctly replied. Though that barely touches the manifest strangeness of Lehrer's ongoing behavior.

Incredibly, this represented the fifth straight debate in which Lehrer prompted the Republican candidate to discuss the character problems of his Democratic opponent. (Lehrer had no control over the content of the other debates in 1996 and 2000.) And by the way, just so you’ll know: This was the subsequent question to Kerry which “balanced” that leading question to Bush:
LEHRER (9/30/04): New question, two minutes, Senator Kerry. If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?
And this was the question Lehrer has asked right before prompting Bush to discuss Kerry's character:
LEHRER (9/30/04): New question, two minutes. Senator Kerry, you mentioned Darfur, the Darfur region of Sudan. Fifty thousand people have already died in that area. More than a million are homeless. And it's been labeled an act of ongoing genocide. Yet neither one of you or anyone else connected with your campaigns or your administration that I can find has discussed the possibility of sending in troops. Why not?
Weird! It was almost like Candidate Kerry had a character problem there too!

In these five debates, stretching over eight years, Lehrer kept asking the Republican candidates to discuss the Democrats' bad character. There were no equal-but-opposite questions—and Lehrer is amazingly frank, in his strange new book, about the reasons for those questions in 1996. It was all about his desire to hear Bob Dole discuss Gennifer Flowers!

No, we’re not making that up.

(Lehrer gave this same explanation to Gloria Borger when they discussed his new book on C-Span. Borger said nothing, of course.)

These are very bad people—dumb, overpaid, over-praised, hugely clueless. In the last few nights, they have been showing us tape of history’s greatest mistakes—though first, they have excised their own.

They too failed to serve: We would complete our list in this way:
Worst debate performances ever:
Jim Lehrer, 1996/2000/2004
Bernie Shaw, 1988
Brian Williams/Tim Russert, Democratic debate, 10/30/07
Judy Woodruff, Democratic debate, January 2000
Tim Russert, Republican debate, January 2000 (in part for its comedy value)
If you want the greatest mistake by a candidate, the worst in history is obvious—and undiscussed. The winner would have to be Candidate Bush, accusing Candidate Gore of using “phony numbers” in their first debate, followed by this classic sliming:
BUSH (10/3/00): Look, this is the man who's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think, not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator.


It's fuzzy math. It's to scare them, trying to scare people in the voting booth.
The key word there is “LAUGHTER.”

In fact, Gore’s numbers were perfectly accurate. Everyone in the “press corps” knew it. (A few even said so, under their breath.) Oops! Candidate Bush had misdescribed his own prescription drug plan! After that, he called Candidate Gore a liar for having described it correctly! As he did, he threw in the campaign's defining line: Al Gore said he invented the Internet!

It was the biggest debate gaffe of all time by a candidate. Thanks to the morals of people like Lehrer, you were never told. An hour later, in fact, Lehrer was inviting Bush to describe Gore’s character problems! Soon, the children were playing their doctored tapes of Gore sighing too much.

This is the way you got to Iraq—with multimillionaires tugging their dongs as they dreamed of loud talk about Flowers.

By the way: Your liberal "intellectual leaders" accepted this nonsense every step of the way. You didn't hear the tiniest peep out of your most famous leaders. You won't heard these people discuss Lehrer's book, or the weird things he says in its pages. Nor will your favorite fiery young liberals ever discuss such a god.

Dearest darlings! Careers are at stake! Such things cannot be done!


  1. So.. you're upset that debate moderators are insufficiently helpful to Democrats. There's a shocker.

  2. Way to miss the point, Anonymous coward. But nice illustration of the tribal mindset.

  3. Here is a question you will not hear during next year's presidential debates:

    "Candidate so-and-so: with the continued absence of any action by the United States humankind is doomed to cook the planet. Best estimates of the date after which action would be largely futile are during the next presidential term. As president, what would you do to abate global warming?"

    Aside from the hyperbolic "doomed to cook the planet," I think it is unconscionable for a debate moderator not to ask that question, in that way. Absent a nuclear war, the next president's choices in this policy area will greatly affect the lives of all future generations of humans.

    And if the candidate gives no serious answer, the follow-up question should be: "What are the steps you would take to prepare this country and the world for the effects of the global warming that will inevitably follow?"

    I have found this year's Republican debates unlistenable. All the substance questions come from the viewpoint of a lunatic, I just become agitated and turn them off. I fear that the presidential debates next year will be the same, considering that one of the candidates and all of the moderators will be drawn from the same pool.

    In the past I have found the presidential debates somewhat listenable, even though they feature cringe-worthy moments such as Somerby lists. I think next year's may be over the edge.

  4. I remember a question from 2000 where Gore and Bush were asked whether they agreed with listed military actions over the previous 20 years. They disagreed on just one -- Lebanon. You might have thought that this would invite a follow up question as to why they supported or opposed it, but if you thought that, you would be wrong. Not to worry, though, it's not like views on the use of military policy were relevant to policy outcomes of the next four years.

  5. "And if the candidate gives no serious answer, the follow-up question should be: "What are the steps you would take to prepare this country and the world for the effects of the global warming that will inevitably follow?"

    I can tell you their answer. First, global warming is just a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists so they can scam grant money; the scientists we hired to refute them have said so. Second, if there were such a thing, the solution would obviously be to have the biggest, baddest military around so we could simply dictate to the rest of the world whatever we needed to do to ensure our survival. If we need clean water to drink or oil to run our air conditioners or land for our displaced citizens to live on, we'll just take it.

  6. Very nice post, Bob.

    Many conservatives think that at the Republican debates, the moderators' questions are mostly liberal talking points or "gotcha" questions." Newt Gingrich has been getting a lot of applause by taking on the moderators.

    At this link, you can see Newt taking Maria Bartolomo to pieces. The audience loves it.

  7. Hey D in C, I did go to that link, and is it just me, or was everything Newt said when he finally deigned to answer the question totally batsh!t insane? I mean, "relocalize healthcare" so the doctor/patient relationship is foremost and involve the family in making decisions. Ummm, OK. sounds good, But how exactly does that transform our healthcare system. Or this gem: invest in brain science so that we can cure alzheimer's. Why didn't I think of that? If we just cure the diseases that are making people sick, we won't even need a healthcare system anymore. People will just get their alzheimer's vaccine, and their heart disease vaccine and their cancer vaccine... Problem solved!

    No wonder Newt has gained a reputation for being such a deep thinker.

  8. Rob, it's kind of you to answer for people like me, but I'd rather speak for myself. Here's what I would say if asked what to do about global warming.

    There is no chance that the world will sufficiently reduce CO2 production at any time soon. That's the official position of China and India. The countries that signed Kyoto didn't fulfill their promises. Many who claim that it's urgent to reduce CO2 nevertheless oppose the widespread use of nuclear power, even though that's the only current alternative that could replace large amounts of coal, oil, and gas burniing. There just is no widespread willingness to make the level of economic and ecological sacrifices necessary to reduce CO2 down to where it would need to be if the pessimistic models are correct. Imagining that we can solve the problem via CO2 reduction is wishful thinking.

    IMHO, anyone who's seriously concerned about the threat of GW should support moving funding into geo-engineering research. That's our only hope. Working toward inadequate reductions in CO2 is almost the same as doing nothing.

    Also, while every scientist agrees that the earth has been warming, and most believe that CO2 plays a role, many top scientists aren't sure that CO2 is main driver of the warming. If CO2 isn't the key, the world might waste trillions of dollars trying to reduce CO2 and still be left with the problem of GW. Geoengineering could help prevent undue warming regardless of the cause of that warming.

  9. "The countries that signed Kyoto didn't fulfill their promises."

    Meanwhile, in the real world: "A report by the European Environment Agency released [in 2009] shows that the European Union and all Member States but one are on track to meet their Kyoto Protocol commitments to limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions."

    Of course, it's imperfect progress -- but it's much better than having done nothing.

    Kyoto shows that it is possible for countries to reduce CO2 production without causing economic catastrophe (although there was an economic catastrophe, it wasn't caused by Kyoto), and we should increase efforts along those lines. While I think that we should fund research into geo-engineering, we shouldn't put all our eggs in that one very risky basket.

    We should also have nuclear energy on the table -- along with solor, wind, geothermal, and other options. The idea that all alternatives except nuclear have been proven hopeless and useless is right-wing ideology, and contradicts what's actually going on.

    "Also, while every scientist agrees that the earth has been warming, and most believe that CO2 plays a role, many top scientists aren't sure that CO2 is main driver of the warming."

    What does "aren't sure" mean? If a scientist says that the large majority of evidence shows that CO2 plays a major role in global warming, but it's theoretically possible that future evidence will make things different, does that count as not being "sure," in your book?

    Because unless that's how you're defining "sure," your statement is flat-out wrong. The overwhelming majority of climatologists who have published on the subject agree that human activities (i.e., CO2 pollution) are the major driver of the recent global warming trend.

    Name who these "top scientists" you refer to are, please.

  10. You forgot Brian Williams in the April 2007 Democratic primary "Debate".

    Williams: Senator Clinton, your party’s leader in the United States Senate, Harry Reid, recently said the war in Iraq is lost. A letter to today’s USA Today calls his comments “treasonous” and says if General Patton were alive today, Patton would “wipe his boots” with Senator Reid.

    Do you agree with the position of your leader in the Senate?

    (Gee, Hillary, are you and Harry both traitors, or just Harry?)

    Williams: Senator Obama, you have called this war in Iraq, quote, “dumb,” close quote. How do you square that position with those who have sacrificed so much? And why have you voted for appropriations for it in the past? Senator Obama, you go first.

    (Obama called the war dumb before the invasion, but I guess it still proves he doesn’t care about the troops over there.)

    Williams: Senator Obama, you’ve promised in your campaign a new kind of politics, but just this week the Chicago Sun-Times reported on questionable ties you have with a donor who was charged last year for demanding kickbacks on Illinois business deals.

    Aren’t you practicing the very same kind of politics that many of the others on this stage have engaged in?

    (This story was ancient history, there was no wrongdoing, and the moderator, the nightly anchor for NBC news, knew this perfectly well.)
    (And BTW, the rest of you Democrats are just as dirty as Obama's gangster pal)

    Williams: Governor, thank you.
    We are all out of time.
    Senator Clinton, a friend of yours from back home, said this week: Quote, “The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us.”

    Another quote: “America will be safer with a Republican president.”

    How do you think, Senator, that it happened that that notion of Republicans as protectors in a post 9/11 world has taken on so?

    (Rasmussen poll from earlier that week: 49% of Americans think Democrats are better on national security than the Republicans (42%.)

    No gotcha's here!

  11. Sorry, Barry. Unfortunately, what the world is doing about CO2 isn't sufficiently better than having done nothing. Scroll down to the second chart, the Full Mauna Loa CO2 record
    Despite the efforts of some countries, atmospheric CO2 is going up faster and faster. The rise would be even steeper if there hadn't been any effort at all to limit CO2. However, according to the pessimistic models, the rate of increase we're actually experiencing will cause disastrous global warming. We need to find a more practical approach.

    A list of scientists opposing the mainstream scientific assessment of global warming is available at wikipedia at

    There are some very impressive names on that list.

  12. David, a more practical approach could include both reducing CO2 and researching other mitigation approaches (such as geoengineering). Kyoto was a fairly mild intervention; the success of Kyoto should be a reason to do more, not a reason to give up entirely.

    As for your link to Wikipedia: The large majority of those scientists simply aren't experts in climatology at all, and their opinion carries no special expertise or authority. Working for the CATO Institute makes you a right-wing ideologue, not a scientific expert.

    There are maybe seven names there of genuine experts in the field, and they're often very marginal people, such as David Legates, famous for signing a statement saying global warming can't be real because Earth's climate was "created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence."

    That's not "many" people, David; that's a scant handful.

    In contrast to the five or so names you came up with, there are literally over a thousand actual experts in this field who disagree with your statement. 97% of scientists who publish in the peer-reviewed literature in the field say believe in anthropomorphic global warming -- which is to say, they believe that humans, through CO2 pollution, are causing global warming.

    (See )

    There is no reasonable definition of the words "many" or "expert" which could lead any reasonable person to agree that many experts agree that CO2 hasn't been proven to be a major cause of global warming.

  13. Barry, one can believe in anthropomorphic GW, but not necessarily believe in the certainty of catastrophic anthropomorphic GW. I believe in anthropomorphic GW, as do many of the scientists who disagree with the mainstream view. However, we are not convinced about the magnitude of CO2-caused warming.

    CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Mankind is adding to CO2. So, man's activities are contributing to GW. But, CO2 is only a moderate greenhouse gas. An increase in atmospheric CO2 cannot create catastrophic GW unless there's some sort of positive feedback loop, probably involving water vapor. Water vapor is a much mopre significant greenhouse gas than CO1.

    Scientists disagree on the nature and magnitude of any possible feedback loop. Even the scientists who believe in catastrophic GW disagree about about the nature and magnitude of the feedback.

    I'm also struck by the fact that the the earth's temperature didn't rise during the last dozen years or so, even though greenhouse gases continued to rise. This mismatch shows that scientists' models of global temperature are inadequate. Given the obvious weaknesses in the models, I don't see how anyone can be certain of his beliefs.

  14. it's also the way we got to afghanistan.

    "This is the way you got to Iraq"

    had gore been elected, there's a very good possibility 9/11 wouldn't have happened, because a president gore would already be aware of the danger osama bin laden presented to the US, and he probably would have actually read that briefing report, the one presented to bush a month before, which was essentially ignored.

    most likely, we wouldn't have multi-hundred billion dollar deficits for most of a pres. gore's terms in office, because he wouldn't have arbitrarily cut taxes.

    speculation? sure, but circumstantial evidence tends to support it.

  15. The fallout from Bernie Shaw's question is still very much with us, seems to me. Any Dem candidate must now declare he is more pro death penalty than now. For Clinton it was the unseemly Ricky Rector affair, used as red meat by progressives like ultra clueless Marc Cooper, who would never dream of bringing up the death penalty record of a Texas Gov.
    Obama took it further, DISAGREEING with a SC call that limited Capital Punishment. Obama said "it should be left up to the States(!). For our lifetime, it is likely to be Dems who hold the line for death penalty. Thanks Bernie!!

  16. I would vote for the 10/30/07 moderators as the worst, because the assault on candidate Clinton was sustained throughout the whole 90 minutes.

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