Moderators set for debates

Bob Schieffer, Tom Brokaw, Jim Lehrer selected

NEW YORK -- Bob Schieffer, Tom Brokaw and Jim Lehrer were tapped Tuesday to moderate three planned debates in the fall between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

The debates will be held in New York, Tennessee and Mississippi in September and October. PBS' Gwen Ifill will moderate the vice presidential debate, planned for Oct. 2 in St. Louis.

The Commission on Presidential Debates already said it wouldn't tap current network news anchors, leaving ABC's Charles Gibson, NBC's Brian Williams and CBS' Katie Couric out of the equation. Gibson and Williams moderated debates on their networks during the primary season; Couric's were canceled because of scheduling conflicts with the candidates.

"This year, more than ever, these debates are going to be important," Schieffer said Tuesday. "This campaign started on such a high plane and now we're down to the Britney Spears ads and stuff like that. I think it will be a good thing for the country to see these two men at the debates."

It will be Lehrer's 11th presidential debate, a record stretching back to 1988, when he moderated debates between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. He said the 90-minute time goes by quickly.

"It is not a TV show. It's not running a segment for the 'NewsHour,' " Lehrer said. "It is a very important event, a major event for our country. I'm always aware of that. It's scorching. I'm trying to make sure that things are fair, but that's only part of it. It's also got to be perceived as fair. It's tough work, but it's exhilarating as well."

Lehrer will moderate the first debate, on domestic policy, on Sept. 26 at the University of Mississippi. Brokaw will moderate a town hall meeting-style debate Oct. 7 at Belmont University in Nashville. Schieffer will moderate the final debate, on foreign-affairs issues, on Oct. 15 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

There will be no podiums for the debates, with McCain and Obama instead sitting at a table with the moderator. Another major change is a loosening of the format: The moderator will introduce an issue in each of eight 10-minute segments, and instead of strict response times there will be discussions between the candidates.

"Before, there was no way for the moderators to go in there with a follow-up question," said Schieffer, who moderated a presidential debate in 2004. "It'll be my job to get them to ask the follow-up question themselves, and when they don't, I'll be able to."

Schieffer said he's looking forward it.

"It'll be a little more free-wheeling. We'll try to make it as much of a debate among the two of them rather than just asking and answering questions," he said.

Also on Tuesday, MySpace said it would partner with the commission on MyDebates.org, a Web site that will stream the debates and offer tracking of issues, playback and other tools. After each debate, the event will be bookmarked via issue to allow viewers to check what's important to the candidates and discuss them.
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