LEHRER’S RERUN: In Gethsemane, victim of smears!


Part 3—While the lapdogs fawned: Did Jim Lehrer fail at last Wednesday’s debate?

In fairness, it’s hard to say. He did very little to shape the discussion. He created little clarification of major issues, even concerning the most basic claims made by Obama and Romney.

That said, he may have been following orders! Post-debate, some members of the debate commission said Lehrer was simply doing what he’d been told—that he was following the commission’s plan for this year’s new debate format.

Before the debate, the story was different. More on that point on Wednesday.

Did Lehrer fail at Wednesday’s debate? History will have to decide! That said, the great man agonized in Gethsemane as the debate approached.

Last Tuesday morning, the New York Times discussed the changing status of moderators in our presidential debates. Jeremy Peters began his report live and direct from the garden.

First, he kissed the ass of a sanctified man. Then, the sanctified man bared his soul:
PETERS (10/2/12): Playing Roles of Referee and, Increasingly, Target During Debates

When Jim Lehrer takes the stage in Denver on Wednesday night, the tens of millions of people watching will see the same imperturbable voice of reason they have come to know in his quarter century as the country's go-to referee for the presidential debates.

But Mr. Lehrer, the former anchor of ''PBS NewsHour,'' has been seething. He said he was outraged by suggestions that he was a ''safe'' and uninspired choice to moderate the first of four debates. And he is offended by reports that questioned whether this—his 12th presidential debate—might be one too many.

''It's a rough, rough world—I know that,'' Mr. Lehrer said recently, his voice rising in exasperation. ''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.''
Has Jim Lehrer really been an “imperturbable voice of reason” during his many White House debates? We’ll examine that question tomorrow.

But no.

That said, Peters said Lehrer was “seething” as he endured his passion. In Peters’ judgment, Lehrer was outraged by the (very mild) criticism which had been coming his way.

He was “offended” by other suggestions. In Gethsemane, Lehrer writhed in the face of comments which he regarded as “smears.”

Surprise! Peters was skirting a fact which is rarely discussed—Lehrer has some of the thinnest skin of any big player in Washington. Here’s how we learned that:

Last year, Lehrer wrote a strange but revealing book about his many White House debates. The book was called Tension City.

In his book, Lehrer rather weirdly described how much he hates being criticized. He then proved that he wasn’t kidding as he discussed past debates. In particular, Lehrer indulged in a great deal of payback concerning the (rather mild) criticism he took in October 2000, when he behaved extremely badly during the pivotal Bush-Gore debates.

Until we read Tension City, we ourselves had never realized that Lehrer has Washington’s thinnest skin. He basically said so in this strange book, then proved it with his fact-challenged accounts of his conduct, and the way he was criticized, in October 2000.

More on those topics tomorrow. But as last week’s debate approached, Lehrer was writhing in the garden, offended by all the smears.

Can we talk? The fact that Lehrer can see things that way shows how pampered he is. In fact, few mortals in any other profession are fawned over as Lehrer is.

He has his ass kissed as few others do. Presumably, this helps explain the thin skin.

In what ways is Lehrer fawned over? For an example of what we mean, consider the lengthy, pre-debate profile of Lehrer which appeared in Politico. As Dylan Byers began, he sloppily kissed the ass of “the master,” employing the voices of others:
BYERS (9/29/12): Jim Lehrer: The master of moderation

For the 12th time in the history of the televised presidential debates, Lehrer, the executive editor of PBS Newshour, has been asked to serve as moderator, making him by far the most experienced such moderator in modern history—a task for which Lehrer, more than any other journalist, is uniquely suited, according to his contemporaries.

“Jim’s reputation is unassailable. He reeks integrity,” Tom Brokaw, the veteran “NBC Nightly News” anchor, told POLITICO. “He knows that his role there is to make this about the two candidates, not about him.”

“Jim is the best person for the job, the straightest guy in this profession, and absolutely trustworthy,” said Robert MacNeil, Lehrer’s longtime co-host on the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report.” “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.”

But at a time when the electorate is as divided as ever, and when media scrutiny is more intense than ever, his is a task that carries unprecedented responsibility. Lehrer, colleagues and campaign strategists say, must ask tough, substantive questions and yet maintain total impartiality. He must shepherd the candidates through a range of topics while allowing them to drive the debate. And he must push Obama and Romney for genuine responses without injecting himself into the conversation.

If anyone can walk that tightrope, it’s Lehrer, whose commitment to fairness, sense of modesty and professional experience—developed over more than five decades in newspaper then television journalism—have earned him the respect of political strategists across the ideological spectrum.
When it comes to figures like Lehrer, this type of fawning has long been required by mandates of Hard Pundit Law. Within the guild, everyone knows that you must say such things about the guild’s masters and deacons.

Please note: The press corps fawns about its own as it fawns about no one else. For that reason, few mortals are shielded from criticism in the way Lehrer is.

Inevitably, Brokaw, McNeil and Byers were offering a highly skewed picture of Lehrer. In fact, Lehrer’s reputation has been assailed—during Campaign 2000, for instance. But people like Brokaw must say such things, and they constantly do.

They say such things so masters like Lehrer will say such things about them! They say such things so climbers like Byers will put their comments right at the top of these fawning, faux profiles.

In the process, we the rubes get fed gross deceptions about the greatness of the guild’s saints—the Russerts, the Broders and the Lehrers. We’re told a thousand things which simply aren’t true.

In the process, the masters’ noggins swell.

Within the guild, everyone knows it—if you’re on track to be a star, you have to kiss the asses of those who were made stars before you! And sure enough! Before the Byers profile was done, a pair of pseudo-liberal climbers had also kissed Lehrer’s ass:
BYERS: For all the talent on television today, few besides Lehrer meet those qualifications. Indeed, colleagues say, moderators of Lehrer’s ilk are severely lacking in today’s media landscape, where partisanship and showmanship trump once-sacred notions of fairness and balance.

“Jim represents a version of American political journalism that is much less prominent now,” Melissa Harris-Perry, the MSNBC host and academic, told POLITICO. “I have my own viewpoints, I regularly insert and assert—as much as I love what I do, that’s insufficient for a presidential debate.”


Given all that is at stake on Oct. 3, the entire political-media industry seems secure in knowing that Lehrer will serve as moderator. Even younger generations of television journalists, who noted a lack of demographic diversity or new-media savvy among this year’s moderators, feel comforted by Lehrer’s presence.

“Speed has not particularly been of service to American political landscape: Voters get little chance to sit back, soak in and really breathe deeply as far as where these guys stand,” Alex Wagner, the 34-year-old MSNBC host, told POLITICO. “The campaign feels like a washing machine…so I like the idea that Jim, who has so much experience in politics and understands the nuances of these issues, will be moderating.”

“Jim Lehrer moderating a debate is like Dick Clark hosting New Year’s Eve,” said the 38-year-old Harris-Perry. “It just seems right.”
How sweet! Even the “younger generation of television journalists” had been willing to stand in line to join the ranks of ass-kissers! Indeed, that’s where Politico's profile ended—with a pair of pseudo-liberal climbers kissing the ass of this deeply flawed man, thus advancing their own careers.

Unfortunately, Lehrer hasn’t performed in the manner described in this long, fawning profile. In his many White House debates, it isn’t clear that he has performed like “the straightest guy in this profession.”

Beyond that, he simply hasn’t done a good job exploring “the nuances of these issues.” That is a dream from the land of kissed keisters.

Harris-Perry dreamed it.

In fairness, the self-dealing lapdogs of the left gave Byers the kinds of quotes he wanted, while actually saying very little about Lehrer’s supposed virtues. But please:

Despite that first statement from Harris-Perry, Lehrer has very much seemed to insert his viewpoint into past presidential debates. In a world which wasn’t run by climbers, a TV-star liberal would say so.

And despite that fawning statement by Wagner, Lehrer has done a horrible job in past debates when it comes to “understanding the nuances of these issues,” or even their most basic outlines.

Let’s be fair! Wagner and Harris-Perry were doing what’s right for their own careers. Tomorrow, in a search for fairness, we’ll help you understand how Lehrer has really performed in the past.

We’ll remind you about those criticisms from 2000—the smears which still seem to have Lehrer seething. Beyond that, we’ll show you Lehrer’s own description of what he did in 1996—the strange account he gave in his book about the questions he asked during that year’s debates.

Who knows! Maybe Lehrer was following orders during last Wednesday’s lackluster outing! But Lehrer’s performance was awful last week—and that should have come as no surprise. Despite the bullshit Wagner emitted, Lehrer has never done a good job defining the outlines of major issues. And despite the bullshit from Harris-Perry, Lehrer’s past performance has been extremely shaky on the matter of partisanship.

Question: Did that rising young “academic” bother to read Lehrer’s book?

Tomorrow: 1996, then 2000

Wednesday—Epilogue: Was Lehrer just following orders? Plus a list of his three million books.

In case you missed it: Last Wednesday, Paul Glastris saw some of the same things we did. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/12.


  1. The potential problem of the moderator shaping the discussion is illustrated by this interview.

    The interview was about reducing crime. Paul Ryan offered up some solutions including better enforcement of gun laws, bringing economic opportunity to inner city neighborhoods where crime is rampant, and teaching good discipline and good character to people in the inner cities.

    The reporter then asked, “And you can do all that by cutting taxes?” IMHO this "question" was really a snide way of attacking Ryan's positions.

    If a Presidential debate moderator chooses to shape the discussion, there's a real possibility that s/he might introduce this sort of bias.

    1. David, only you would see a problem with asking a tax hawk how he was going to pay for all his promises.

  2. A better question would have been, "And how will you pay for that?"