10 Constructing the 1996 Debates: Determining the Settings, Formats, and Participants
Diana B. Carlin University of Kansas
Presidential debates are events filled with high stakes and high drama. As such, they require considerable planning by those participating as well as those sponsoring. Thus, when Jim Lehrer said, "Good evening from the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, Connecticut. . . . Welcome to the first of the 1996 Presidential debates between President Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee, and Senator Bob Dole, the Republican nominee," the televised debate was just beginning. However, the planning, the debate over the debates, and the decisions that produced the opening camera shot began shortly after the last words of the final presidential debate in 1992 were spoken.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the sponsor of debates in 1988, 1992, and 1996, has made an effort since its formation in 1987 to produce high-quality debates based on research and input from a variety of sources, including communication scholars. Recommendations and decisions regarding settings, format, and participants in 1996 reflect lessons learned from past debates and the unique exigences of each campaign year. The issues of sites, formats, and invitees are often controversial and the 1996 debates had their share of controversy. This chapter examines the process by which decisions about settings, formats, and participants were made.
Political debates in a media age are media events. They must be staged to conform to the demands of the camera. In its 1975 Aspen decision, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) determined that a political de-