Jim Lehrer has been widely criticized for his passive performance as the moderator of Wednesday's night's presidential debate, but in his first post-debate interview, he tells POLITICO that he was simply fulfilling his new mission, which was to allow the candidates to engage one another without interruption.
"Based on what the goal was, I saw it as successful," Lehrer told POLITICO. "I've always said this and finally I had a chance to demonstrate it: The moderator should be seen little and heard even less. It is up to the candidates to ask the follow-up questions and challenge one another."
"I don't consider that being passive, I consider it being effective," he said.
Both President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney commended Lehrer's performance, but he was heavily criticized by politicians and pundits across the political spectrum for rarely challenging the candidates, and for backing down from confrontation almost every time he tried to interject himself into the conversation.
Fox News host Chris Wallace criticized Lehrer for seeming to "lose some control" of the candidates, while MSNBC host Chris Matthews "said the moderator did not moderate." Discussing the multiple instances in which Romney spoke over Lehrer, Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said she "sometimes wondered if we even needed a moderator because we had Mitt Romney."
But Lehrer said that the new debate format, in which candidates each get two minutes to answer a question and an additional eleven minutes to debate with one another, was meant to give the moderator a less active role.
"I came away thinking this was a very successful debate, because we accomplished what the mission was," he said.
"The goal of the new format was to have the candidates talk directly to one another, in an extensive way, about things that matter," he said. "One of the problems is that everybody is used to the old-fashioned debate system, which is very controlled, and where the moderator plays a more active role. But from the very beginning, everybody has been saying that what we really want is to have a real debate, not to have a moderator conducting a pseudo-interview."
Lehrer said he was aware of the criticism, but that he would have no trouble putting it behind him.
"I understand that there were a lot of tweets. I didn't follow it carefully," he said. "Everybody was learning here."
"I'm not suggesting that everything I did was terrific," he continued. "But we're defining terrific here, in front of 67 million people. So yes, I've heard some of the criticism, but it's not keeeping me awake at night."
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