The Past and Future of Presidential Debates

By Austin Ranney | Go to book overview
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JAMES KARAYN, director of the 1976 debates: I don't know where the idea came from that we excluded from the panels reporters who were traveling with the candidates. In 1960 the networks wanted to use only network correspondents as questioners. The Nixon and Kennedy people said they couldn't live with the political heat of that, so the networks agreed that in the second and third debates they would also allow print journalists. They told the two candidates' organizations, "You pick them; we don't care how, but you choose them." Pierre Salinger and Herb Klein said,"My God, we don't want that problem." So they put the names of everybody who was traveling with the two candidates into a fishbowl and drew for who would be on the panels.

In 1976 we felt strongly that the panels should not be limited to people traveling with the candidates, but we never excluded anybody traveling with the candidates. Somehow that impression got out, but it was never the case. We merely did not want to keep out all the other journalists.

GERMOND: Our point was that maybe the panel needs to be more structured, and that at least one of the reporters with the campaigns should be there to ask those hard questions about the Playboy interview, the Rose Garden campaign, and the like.

KARAYN: I was very careful not to get involved in what the panels were going to ask, but obviously the Playboy thing came up in the discussions before the debates. Elizabeth Drew was certainly informed enough to think about that, and certainly so was Frank Reynolds. It was their choice not to bring it up, and I really don't know why they chose not to.

It is easy to forget that out of all the reporters in this country, there were twelve people picked: three moderators and nine questioners for the three presidential debates. Each of those debates averaged about fourteen questions, that is, forty-two questions in three debates, and nine questioners. The big problem is more what to discard and what not to ask or who not to choose than it is what to


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The Past and Future of Presidential Debates


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