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One-Moderator Debate Format Backed in Survey

From a Times Staff Writer

People who watched the televised presidential and vice presidential debates this year agreed on one thing: organizers should get rid of the panelists and stick with a single moderator.

That finding came out of “focus groups” convened in 17 cities to discuss each of the four debates. The results were released Thursday by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Viewers said the single-moderator format kept the focus on the candidates rather than diverting attention to reporters on a panel. Viewers also liked having questions come from the audience, as happened in Richmond, Va., because they covered issues in which ordinary citizens were interested.

The sole vice presidential debate, in Atlanta, had a moderator, ABC’s Hal Bruno, who asked all the questions.

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ABC’s Carole Simpson moderated the presidential debate in Richmond, but nearly all questions were asked by citizens in the audience.

The first half of the debate in East Lansing, Mich., was conducted by moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS; the other half consisted of questions from a panel of reporters. The St. Louis debate was panel-only.

The commission originally recommended the single-moderator format, which Democratic nominee Bill Clinton accepted. However, President Bush insisted on the panel format and eventually a compromise was worked out.


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