Defending Jim Lehrer
by Anthony Moretti
I don’t know Jim Lehrer.
I’ve never met Jim Lehrer.
But I do admire Jim Lehrer.
After watching critics, the blogosphere and other forms of social media jump all over Lehrer for how he moderated the initial presidential debate, and then seeing Martha Raddatz and Candy Crowley try but not succeed under the glare of moderator, it’s time to acknowledge that Lehrer might have done it right.
One of the challenges in evaluating a moderator is determining exactly what he or she is supposed to do. Is the expectation to get in the face of the candidates, challenging each word they use? Is it to ensure that the candidates stay on topic and remind them of that when they stray? Or is it to pose a few questions, ensure that professionalism remains on display and get out of the way?
Each moderator took one of those approaches. I’ll leave it to you to tell me which style you preferred.
In our polarized political universe, every journalist is perceived as biased. Lehrer, for example, works for PBS; therefore, there’s little doubt where he falls on the political spectrum. That environment demands a journalist stay as far removed from “the story” as he or she can.
If you don’t believe me, then consider the blowback Raddatz and Crowley faced for their posture. How dare they cut off either President Obama or Governor Romney as they tried to make a point! How could they tell someone to stick to the question asked! Doing that proves, proves I tell you!, those women were determined to see one of the candidates fail on the national stage so as to get the other one elected.
Now, let’s get serious for a moment and remember Lehrer comes from an era in which an anchor reported the news, gave you enough information to help you make up your mind and moved on to the next story. He (sorry, there were no shes back then) didn’t rant. He didn’t make millions upon millions of dollars. He didn’t parade himself all over the media universe.
In 2012, Lehrer is so passé. He should have been led to pasture a long time ago.
Unless you happen to like news delivered by a person who doesn’t want to be part of the story.
Anthony Moretti is an associate professor in the School of Communications and Information Systems at Robert Morris University, where he teaches a variety of journalism courses. He spent more than one-dozen years in the broadcast industry before entering higher education. He blogs daily on topics of news, politics, sports and more. This is cross posted from his blog.