Newton Minow: Debate Moderators Facing Criticism ‘Much More Than Has Ever Happened Before’

By Alissa Krinsky 

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Known as one of the fathers of televised presidential debates, Newton Minow has helped shape every such match-up since 1960 – including the selection of this year’s debate moderators.

“We looked for people who we know from their record are fair, who know the issues, and who are not afraid of attention and pressure – who are used to being on live television,” Minow tells TVNewser. “I think we’ve got a very good representation of the journalism community this year, and we’re looking forward to it.”

TVNewser caught up with Minow today prior to his address at the City Club of Chicago. Minow says this will be his final term on the Commission on Presidential Debates, which he helped create nearly three decades ago.

“I’m 90 years old,” he says.  “I’ve been trying to get off of this thing for the last three elections – and this time, I’m determined to do it!”

He calls 2016’s polarizing political climate “unusual” in that it has debate moderators facing unprecedented criticism. “Much more than has ever happened before,” Minow says, adding, “They can handle it.”

Minow is a former FCC Chairman appointed at age 35 by Pres. John F. Kennedy. He may be most famous for calling the relatively nascent TV industry a “vast wasteland” in a 1961 speech to the National Association of Broadcasters. The remarks came during an address urging the networks to do more to serve the public interest.

During his talk today in Chicago, Minow noted that Monday’s debate will be held on the same date – September 26 – as the first Kennedy-Nixon showdown in 1960.

Asked whom he feels has been the most effective Presidential debate moderator over the years, Minow cited Jim Lehrer.  “He takes the view, which is controversial, [that] it’s not the moderator’s job to correct a candidate. If Candidate A says something that isn’t true, it’s Candidate B’s job to correct it – not the moderator.”

Another attendee sought Minow’s thoughts on Megyn Kelly‘s questioning of Donald Trump in the first GOP primary debate. “She didn’t ask anything that wasn’t factual,” Minow said.

(Photo: Alissa Krinsky)