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Hannity

Face the Nation: Bob Schieffer on His Role as Debate Moderator

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," Oct. 12, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: As we continue on "Hannity and Colmes," I'm Sean Hannity, reporting to you from Phoenix tonight.

And still to come, filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi. She went on the road earlier this year with John Kerry, John Edwards and the other Democratic presidential candidates. Her new documentary reveals what’s really going on behind the scenes.

But first, the final showdown between President Bush and Senator Kerry takes place right here in Arizona Wednesday night. And the anchor of "Face the Nation," a good friend of this program, Bob Schieffer. He's going to be the moderator. He joins us tonight.

Bob, you're not nervous, are you? This is a big opportunity for you.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: I am nervous. I'm really honored to be there. And I want to be there. I don't know if nervousness is the right word, but I'll tell you, I'm really up for it. I'm really excited about it because these debates have really changed this campaign, it seems to me. We have gotten it away from these television commercials into these debates. People are making appointments. They’re having debate parties.

Sean, I just think it’s been terrific for the whole system. Anything we can do to put a little more excitement and, yes, fun into our political system, I think we’re the better for it.

HANNITY: Well, you know what, I agree with you. I think it’s a great honor for you, by the way and on a personal level, congratulations. I’m sure you’re going to do a great job tomorrow night.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you.

HANNITY: What is it like? Does everyone come up to you saying, you know, you’ve got to ask Kerry this? The first thing I said to you is, "You got to ask Kerry this." Are you getting a lot of that? "You’ve got to ask George Bush that?"

SCHIEFFER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, when I got off the plane out here in Phoenix today, I bet 25 people came up to me and said, "Now, Bob, now I want you to go easy on President Bush," or, "Bob, get tough on President Bush." Everybody is talking. It’s like World Series time. Everybody is talking about it.

And I just think it’s so wonderful to see Americans focused on this, and people tell you that people are not interested in politics. Don't you believe it. They’re interested. And these debates are showing it, Sean.

HANNITY: No, I agree with you totally.

All right, I want to ask you some of the things that might be on the agenda. Obviously, this is the domestic debate, so I assume we’ll talk about economic plans. We’ll talk about getting out of the Clinton-Gore recession, out of the negative impact of 9/11, 2 million jobs created. I’m sure that will be the president’s case that he will lay out.

What other issues would be things that we could expect or anticipated that are going to be asked tomorrow night?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I think the overriding question is safety. Do we feel safe in our homes? And I think that’s very much a domestic issue. So I will try to frame some question along that line.

I think we have the various cultural issues that can be discussed. I’ll tell you, frankly, and I’m not giving away anything here. I think immigration is a hidden issue. I have gotten more e-mail, Sean, from our viewers saying, "Ask about immigration." So I’m trying to frame a question along those lines.

I think the areas are pretty well-known. What I’ve got to do is figure out a way that I can bring this home to the people sitting there at their television sets. In other words, I’m going to try to avoid the Washington mumbo-jumbo if I can and get it down, frame my questions in a way that they’ll speak directly to the people who are sitting there watching and they will understand how these issues affect them. If I can do that, then I think I’ve done my job.

HANNITY: No, I think — and I actually think the other moderators have done a pretty good job, by and large.

SCHIEFFER: Oh, I think they’ve done a terrific job.

HANNITY: Yes, I think they’ve, by and large, they did a good job.

But you know something? This is too important, I think, and I think it’s important that the right questions are asked, that they get the full opportunity to answer. In that sense, this format has proven to be, I think, a little better than a lot of people thought it would be, especially going into this.

They were concerned about the lights. They were concerned about the time frame. They thought it would be a joint press conference. I think we have gotten more out of the debates than what was originally thought we’d get out of them.

SCHIEFFER: Absolutely. And you and I have talked about this before. But my objective is not to get these men to say something they didn’t mean to say. I’m not there to try to trip them up. We want to get them to say exactly what they mean so the American people will have a better feeling for who they are, why they have taken the positions they have taken.

SCHIEFFER: And it’s going to be very interesting to see how they react to each other once again. That’s what makes it interesting and good.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Hey, Bob, it’s Alan Colmes in New York. We’ll see you in Phoenix tomorrow night.

SCHIEFFER: Hey, Alan.

COLMES: How do you go about selecting the questions and phrasing the questions? For example, if you said "Clinton-Gore recession," you know, clearly that is an opinion. How do you make the questions as neutral as possible?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I think that — I think I do have to make an effort to do that, because that’s my objective here.

I have another objective, too, Alan. I want to get past the little recorded announcements that all politicians have up in their head and maybe I can do that by, you know, sort of quoting back to them what they have already said and then asking the question.

But I will try to frame the questions, and maybe I will be successful. Maybe I won’t. I’ll try to frame them in a way that it will almost prompt a follow-up question from the other one after the first candidate makes the statement. Because, see, I can’t come in there with follow-up questions.

And that’s just fine, because this is not about moderators. This is about the two men who are running for president. So my job is to make sure that we see them at their very best. Now, that does not mean I’m not going to ask the hardest questions that I can. The objective is to see them at their best, and then the people will figure out what they want to do about this.

COLMES: Is it difficult to operate your own point of view, your own bias — we all have them — far enough away from the process, so that you’re as pure as possible and as neutral as possible?

SCHIEFFER: Well, I’m sure that — I mean, that’s certainly my objective. And you’re absolutely right. Everybody has bias. I mean, we all have opinions, except people who are on life-support systems.

But the thing that a reporter has to do — it’s much easier to be fair than it is to be objective, I have always believed. And I’m going to do the very best job I can.

I’m a professional. I have been doing this a long time, and I’m going to do the most professional job that I possibly can to see that the American people know more about who these two men are at the end of this debate.

HANNITY: All right. I think that’s a good attitude that a lot of journalists can learn from, Bob. I’m sure you will do a great job tomorrow night. Thanks for being with us tonight and giving us a little preview. And we’ll be watching tomorrow night. Thanks for being here.

SCHIEFFER: Always fun to be with you, Sean. Thanks, Alan.

HANNITY: And thank you.

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