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Jim Lehrer takes hits as presidential debate moderator

There's one person who may have earned even more criticism than Preident Barack Obama for his performance in Wednesday night's presidential debate: moderator Jim Lehrer.

Everyone from lefty comic Bill Maher to Fox News anchor Chris Wallace lined up on Twitter and TV shows to blast the semiretired PBS news legend for losing control of the event. "Worst moderator ever," actor Rob Lowe tweeted at one point.

Lehrer, 78, who retired as anchor of PBS' NewsHour last year, pushed back a little against the criticism in a statement emailed to the Tampa Bay Times.

"I thought the format accomplished its purpose, which was to facilitate direct, extended exchanges between the candidates about issues of substance," he wrote. "Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so. My only real personal frustration was discovering that ninety minutes was not enough time in that more open format to cover every issue that deserved attention."

GOP nominee Mitt Romney, known for his strong debate performances, talked over Lehrer even when the moderator tried to move on.

By the debate's end, both Obama and Romney regularly exceeded the time allotted to them, with the president even chiding Lehrer at one point.

"I had 5 seconds left before you interrupted me," Obama said sternly, before cracking a smile and continuing for much longer. The president talked four minutes longer than Romney, despite all the rules on timing.

Lehrer seemed to decide early on that allowing each man to make his case was better than refereeing or interjecting too many questions. But that meant the debate often got bogged down in select topics — with huge amounts of time spent on taxes and health care — while Romney controlled the flow of the discussion with a more aggressive performance.

Still, the longtime debate moderator had his defenders. CNN analyst David Gergen, a veteran of four presidential administrations, noted on Twitter: "Contra critics, Jim Lehrer did exactly right as moderator: ask basic ?s, let candidates talk. Result: serious conversation."

But Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Rainey summed up the media world's sentiment best, writing, "Lehrer's 12th, and, doubtless final, turn in the referee's chair would not go down as his finest."

Jim Lehrer takes hits as presidential debate moderator 10/04/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 11:03pm]
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