This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," Sept. 27, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The first of three presidential debates kicks off Thursday night at the University of Miami and you may be surprised to learn just how far the campaigns will go to have their candidate look their best.
Joining us from Kansas City is Diana Carlin, a University of Kansas communications professor. She's also a presidential debate expert who created Debate Watch, a voter education program of the Commission of Presidential Debates.
Welcome. And, first, let me ask you, how big a deal is this negotiation between the two sides?
DIANA CARLIN, UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS PROFESSOR: Well, it's a very big deal, Greta. This is the most important campaign event. More people will watch this than have watched anything else and it can make or break a candidacy.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. They have a 32-page memorandum, apparently, including the points, for instance, that the podiums between the two candidates must stand 10 feet apart. Is that the feet between the podiums, is that usually an area where there is some dispute?
CARLIN: Well, they usually want some control over the whole set, how far apart the candidates are, where cameras are placed, so that they make sure the angles are proper. You know, being in television, you know how important that is. And so they want to make sure there's enough distance that each candidate is going to be seen separately.
They really don't want reaction shots. They don't want two shots if they can avoid it. I mean, just think back on 2000 and the reaction shots from Al Gore and how devastating those became, the more the media talked about them.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I can understand some of the issues they've debated, even the 10 feet apart in terms of the podiums, but this is the one I don't get. Maybe you can help me out. It says, "Candidates may take notes on the type of paper using the type of pen they prefer. Paper and pen must be submitted to the debate staff prior to debate." Is that because they think they're cheating and might have notes or — I mean, what's the points of that one?
CARLIN: Well, typically, they can't bring notes. From the first time we had the major televised debates, Kennedy and Nixon, it's always been one of the negotiated items that they couldn't bring notes and they could have pencil and paper.
In 1960, in one of the debates, Kennedy apparently did bring some notes, in violation of the agreement, and this made major press afterwards. So they're always wanting to make sure no one is slipping any kind of cheat sheet in because it actually has been done.
VAN SUSTEREN: So this is why they write it in a memorandum, because the two sides don't trust each other?
CARLIN: I don't know if it's so much trusting one another as they just want to make sure everybody understands and they're playing by exactly the same set of rules.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So you think if we — if they just said no notes that they wouldn't understand that and they need to instead be more definitive?
CARLIN: They want to make sure everything's fair. If you stop and think about it, some of this agreement looks pretty ridiculous, but everything that's in there is there because of something that's happened at a past debate and they're trying to minimize risk as much as possible.
And it's really a natural type of thing, if you're going for the presidency of the United States and you don't want some minor thing, such as being caught looking the wrong way or whatever, giving people the wrong impression, because nonverbals are very powerful.
VAN SUSTEREN: And in the last 20 seconds we have left, is there anything unusual about this agreement?
CARLIN: They get longer every year, but not really. These are very similar to the same kinds of things they've negotiated in the past. As I said, they usually try to avoid any mistakes that were made the last time, so there appears to be a little more control over some of the camera angles and that type of thing, reaction shots.
VAN SUSTEREN: And I can tell you why they're longer every year: There were a lot of lawyers involved. So they'll get longer ever year.
CARLIN: Well, that's true.
VAN SUSTEREN: I've got to take the last word on that one, Diana. Thank you.
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