NASHVILLE (Hollywood Reporter) - Here’s hoping that Tom Brokaw has better luck than his two predecessors moderating Tuesday’s presidential debate.
Both “NewsHour” anchor Jim Lehrer and PBS “Washington Week” host Gwen Ifill drew less than enthusiastic reviews for their performances.
Brokaw’s boss, NBC News president Steve Capus, said Tuesday that the retired “Nightly News” anchor is ready and gave him a strong vote of confidence.
“He’s raring to go,” Capus said outside the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, where the debate between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama was set to begin at 9 p.m. EDT.
After hosting “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Brokaw went into a cone of silence to get ready for the debate. Even for a town-hall style meeting, which unlike the other three features questions from the audience instead of the moderator, there’s a lot of prep.
And one thing he’s not doing is conferring with his NBC News colleagues.
“We’ve kept him separated from the NBC folks, he’s off doing his thing,” Capus said. “There’s an awful lot of focus on this debate given the timing. But I can think of no one I’d rather see doing the debate.”
Brokaw’s choice was well received in other quarters, too.
“It’s great that Tom Brokaw is moderating the debate. I thought Gwen Ifill was fine (with vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden) but didn’t ask tough followup questions,” said Paul Levinson, chair of the Fordham University journalism department. “Lehrer was all right (with McCain and Obama). But there are few as good as Tom Brokaw, and that’s certainly what’s needed.”
Other communications experts had less nice things to say about the first two moderators.
“She abdicated her responsibility there. Gwen Ifill did not probe,” said Lenny Steinhorn, a communications professor at American University in Washington, D.C. “A debate is not an opportunity for a candidate to memorize their news releases and speak them to the public. It’s a chance to get into the complexity of their thinking, how deep they are in their analysis, and how they see the world and whether they are able to walk into the Oval Office (and be prepared).”
Steinhorn said that the town-hall style debate may provide that depth.
“The audience is there as a proxy for the rest of us,” Steinhorn said. “That’s where it serves us. The question is how well do these candidates connect with the audience and how well they speak to us.”
One thing to look for on Tuesday: Who will address the camera.
“Both Obama and Palin, and to some extent Biden, looked into the camera,” Steinhorn said. “You’ll probably have less of that with the town hall debate.”
Said Levinson: “It’s hard to imagine that he will preside over 90 minutes and not ask tough questions and tough follow ups.”