From Publishers Weekly
Ever since the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate, televised candidate confrontations have been a staple of presidential campaigns; they've gone from being a novelty, to being an option for candidates, to being expected and unavoidable. Viewed by millions of peopleAaccording to Schroeder, presidential debates get Super Bowl-sized ratingsAthe stakes could not be higher for the candidates. In this informative "backstage tour through the fractious world of presidential debates," Schroeder (a professor of journalism at Northeastern) reveals just how tightly these events are staged. Candidates and their staff at least try to control every aspect of the eventAfrom the seating position of the spouses to the color of the sheet hanging behind the podiums. Even the campaigners' ad-libs are carefully scripted. Reagan's famous "There you go again" was planned out beforehandAas was vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen's "You're no Jack Kennedy." Candidates spend weeks preparing themselves and making every attempt to prevent spontaneity. But happily, Schroeder notes, live TV cannot be totally scripted, and it is the rare moments of candor in increasingly pre-packaged campaigns that make the debates both good TV and educational for voters. Memorable unscripted moments include Bush's glancing at his watch in 1992 and the unfeeling reply Dukakis gave in 1988 to a question about the theoretical rape and murder of his wife. So, flawed as they are, the author suggests, presidential debates do matter. Indeed, they show signs of improving as new formats, like "town meetings," where real voters ask questions, loosening the candidates' grip on the process. In any event, they are not going away, and Schroeder's "tour" is a good one, sparked by lively writing and an eye for telling details. 3-city author tour. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Schroeder explores the shorter, but no less fascinating, history of presidential debates--how they have affected campaigns and news coverage of the election process. The first televised debate, in 1960 between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy, set the precedent for such debates, the role-playing and posing that goes into the drama behind the scenes as well as in front of the cameras. Schroeder's book is organized to parallel a television show: preproduction, production, and postproduction. This is a backstage look at the stars and their supporting casts of advisors, and the lesser cast members of moderators and questioners, in this examination of the merger of television and politics. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved