Lehrer: 'Nobody's blaming me' for first presidential debate

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," October 8, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


JIM LEHRER, MODERATOR: In order to reduce the deficit, there has to be revenue in addition to cuts.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There has to be revenue in addition to cuts. Now, Governor Romney has ruled out revenue. He's ruled out revenue.

LEHRER: That's true, right?


OBAMA: OK, so --

LEHRER: Completely?

ROMNEY: I -- look, the revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes. That's how we get growth and how we balance the budget. But the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work -- you'll never get there. You never balance the budget by raising taxes.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST: That was my next guest, Jim Lehrer, moderating the first 2012 presidential debate last week. Now, the left tried very hard to make him the scapegoat for Obama's pitiful performance, but I think for 67 million Americans who watched, it was, well, pretty obvious the blame laid squarely with the president himself.

Here to respond is the author of "Tension City," former PBS News anchor Jim Lehrer. How are you? Good to see you again.

LEHRER: Hey, good to see you, Sean. It's always a pleasure.

HANNITY: You know, you're making fun and I said, "Good evening, this is the NewsHour."

LEHRER: You did that really well.

HANNITY: I did that OK?

LEHRER: Oh, yes -- leave your name at the door and get back to you.

HANNITY: How are you doing, you know?

LEHRER: It's doing great. "The NewsHour" is doing great. The team has took some time to get it all in place. And I kind of transitioned out and I'm very happy about the "PBS NewsHour" and how it's functioning.

HANNITY: I felt bad for you after the debate. A lot of criticism heaped on you.


HANNITY: How did you feel about that?

LEHRER: Well, you know, I'm not really keen on criticism just as a general thing.


LEHRER: But that was right at the beginning. The criticism is pretty much gone away now because people realize that spin doesn't work if everybody's seen the event. Sixty seven million people watched it. Sixty seven million other people reacted to it, saw excerpts to it and all of that. So, they know what they saw. And everybody is pretty well chilled out on this. And nobody is blaming me for it, blaming me for anything.

And the format is what made it possible, whatever happens, some people think -- look at it in a positive way, some people look at in negative way. But however, the fact of the matter is, it was the format and all I did is was implement the format which is a wide open opportunity for the candidates to directly address it.

HANNITY: Which has agreed to ahead of time.

LEHRER: Absolutely.


LEHRER: Absolutely. There's no secret about that.

HANNITY: I actually, you made a comment, that you think this will forever change presidential debates.


HANNITY: Explain.

LEHRER: Well, there's been a progression, I've been moderated a lot of them, and first in 1988. They used to be very controlled, there would be a moderator, there would be three journalists panelist. And the panelist would ask a question to be answered, and then the next journalist would asked a question, different question or different subject, no follow-up, nothing.

And over a period, the debate commission has worked very steadily, it's a bipartisan commission, old politician types who understand the system. And they have worked very hard, we moved into, they moved and I -- helped them implement it, just as a moderator. And we kind of moved into a single moderator system and slowly but surely opened it up a little bit. Two-thousand eight, there was a rule which allowed the candidates for the first time to address each other and question each other. One of the candidates chose not to play, that was John McCain.

HANNITY: John McCain.

LEHRER: So, it didn't work. It didn't work as well. I made a fool of myself trying to get McCain to, you know, to talk to Obama in front of everybody. And Obama played fine. But it didn't work.

But it's established the idea, and then the commission came up with this idealist into 15 minute segments and have it wide open for 15 minutes after initial --

HANNITY: I thought it was great. And I liked it, because it was -- let them debate each other. It was a debate, it wasn't a joint press conference.

LEHRER: Right. But it kind of redefined what moderator is too, Sean.


LEHRER: And -- because I've been, one of the criticism is you know, partisans, to partisans, to partisans. But people who are none-partisan also criticized me because I didn't follow up, I didn't challenge people. But see the whole -- my whole point was, and the commission's whole point, and I was implementing what they want and what I enthusiastic agreed with, was that there's going to be any challenging, the candidates will going to have to do it.

HANNITY: Themselves?

LEHRER: Yes. I was going to facilitate the challenging but I wouldn't going to do it myself.

HANNITY: You have been doing this a long time. How many presidential debates, vice presidential debates have you done total?

LEHRER: Twelve. The twelve one was October 3rd.

HANNITY: That is pretty amazing. Are you nervous before these debates? Do you see nervousness in the candidates knowing that the magnitude is a moment?

LEHRER: There is nervousness everywhere. There certainly is with me. And I think anybody who says they're not nervous before they moderate a presidential debate is either fool or a liar. How could you not be nervous?


LEHRER: I mean, and everything from a moderator is one thing, just multiply it 15 fold for a candidate, because one false move, one false word, can affect the presidency of the United States. And I'm always aware of it when I'm moderating and how can the candidates not be and history has proven that.

HANNITY: Do you get the sense that -- I was actually thinking this during the debate. Do you get a sense while it's going on that one is winning the debate?


HANNITY: I mean, you don't get a sense at all?

LEHRER: No, I completely turn off the judgment function at my brain.

HANNITY: You can compartmentalize that?

LEHRER: Sure, first of all, remember, I'm sitting from here to there.


LEHRER: And the 67 million people are watching on television. So, that is the perspective that matters in this. And I'm concentrating on trying to make the trains run on time, the last -- when a debate is over, and somebody says to me, oh, well, we really cleaned the plow of World War II, I don't know.

HANNITY: You're not hearing it.

LEHRER: I'm not hearing it. And it's not my function as a moderator.

HANNITY: You usually are committed to being fair which I give you a lot of credit for. I obviously couldn't do it. Who was the most nervous -- I don't know, you may not want to answer this and if you don't, I understand -- of all the candidates when you're moderating a debate, that it was most visibly uncomfortable to you.

LEHRER: Oh, Sean, I haven't thought -- all of them, they're all human beings too and no matter how much, how many times they have been in front of millions and millions of people and doing kinds of things and additions to debates, there is always a sign that they are nervous.

HANNITY: You can pick up on it.

LEHRER: Yes. You can smell it.

HANNITY: I have a lot of critics, too. I thought it was unfair and I thought you did a great job and always committed to being fair. And it's really a pleasure to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

LEHRER: Thank you, Sean.

HANNITY: Appreciate it. Good luck with the book as always. Thanks for being here.

LEHRER: Thank you.

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