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Tension City: Inside the Presidential Debates Paperback – September 25, 2012
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I had been saying that to family and friends for years, about my experiences moderating presidential and vice presidential debates. It was not that I believed I had anything deep or important to say, but I knew I had collected--lived through--a few stories that might be worth recounting. I had also interviewed, on videotape, nearly all of the candidates who participated in those high-pressure, nationally-televised encounters about their experiences.
It was in such a chat with former President George H. W. Bush that I got the line that eventually ended up being the title of book.
“Those big time things… they’re Tension City, Jim.”
I decided that, along with the stories and interviews, I would also sprinkle in some bits of advice to the various players in debates.
Most were fairly obvious. Candidates, answer the question. Whatever else you do, respond directly to what you were asked. Yes, tell an anecdote from your childhood, or put it in historical context, but do it after having answered the question.
Moderators spend some time in front of a mirror before a debate saying out loud, “This is not about me. This debate is not about me. It is about the candidates, not the moderator. ” Ask direct, simple questions. Stay away for all gotcha questions and beware of hypotheticals. Do your homework not in order to prepare great questions but to be relaxed and informed enough to listen to the answers.
I also wanted to make the case about how important these nationally televised debates are to the process of choosing the people who will run the country.
As for timing, I decided that moderating my eleventh, the first Obama-McCain debate in 2008, would be my last. If asked to do another in 2012, I would decline on the grounds that others have the opportunity to do good and/or bad for our democracy in front of millions of people.
So. I was free to write this book. That “someday” had arrived.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Advance praise for Tension City
“Unique and compelling . . . Jim Lehrer at once enlightens and entertains, deepening our understanding of the modern presidency while telling a splendid story. Tension City is engaging history from a fair-minded and insightful author who has himself become part of the nation’s fabric.”—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion
“Recreated with a wit and perspective that only a natural born storyteller can summon . . . Some of the most interesting presidential debates take place off-camera, around the reporters asking the questions . . . remember Bernie Shaw’s jaw-dropping inquiry directed to Michael Dukakis about the hypothetical rape and murder of the candidate’s wife? That’s just one of the revelations that makes this the ultimate insider’s account of what George H. W. Bush dubbed ‘tension city.’ It’s all here—Gerald Ford’s premature liberation of Poland; Ronald Reagan’s way with one-liners; the well-honed empathy of Bill Clinton; and the multiple personalities of Al Gore.”—Richard Norton Smith, author of The Colonel
“Jim Lehrer is a national monument, and this riveting book shows how he became America’s moderator. Tension City is at once Lehrer’s behind-the-blue-curtain account of his central role in almost a dozen presidential debates and an original, brisk inner history of recent American politics, combined with important lessons on how to moderate anything—all told in Lehrer’s famously wry and authoritative voice. Each page of Lehrer’s book benefits from his unparalleled experience as a key player, and his extraordinary ability to view these fabled confrontations with the detachment, insight, humor, and ironic sense of a wonderful writer.”—Michael Beschloss, New York Times bestselling author of Presidential Courage
Top Customer Reviews
One more point I think is important in today's political and journalistic climate is that Lehrer interviewed for Tension City practically all the candidates he faced in the debates. That speaks volumes for the respect he has earned as a journalist and moderator from politicians of all stripes. This book has turned me into a huge Jim Lehrer fan!
Moreover, we get the back story to these pivotal moments. Turns out, using this one episode as a good example of the book's revelations, that Shaw ran through the question in advance (and was none too pleased with having to reveal his hand) with his three woman panelists. Their reactions - and whether or not the question was leaked to others outside the room - make for an intriguing 'Rashomon' scenario amongst a group of well-known journalists.
Moreover, Lehrer has been involved in a project to do follow-up interviews with most of the participants. He's got most of those on tape, too. So, we hear Bush 41, Bush 43, Clinton and Carter among others. Of particular note is Bush 43's remembrance of Vice President Gore's odd bull-rush of him in the third debate. He and Lehrer both get to laughing about that most odd of moments...neither can figure out what was going through Gore's mind, but it was the capper of a three-debate skein that Lehrer recalls vividly.Read more ›
I remember the Nixon-Kennedy debate televised in 1960 with Howard K. Smith as moderator, and I have never missed a debate since. Jim Lehrer, who was assigned to twenty-one debates along with other broadcast journalists, was a fixture but he compares the experience of moderating and questioning as like "walking down the blade of a knife." He admits to being nervous and under great pressure.
His memoir will change the way I enjoy future debates. He is honest but not critical and understands the tension involved in debating. He writes with some easy humor as he remembers our former presidents since 1960 and the challengers when they were "onstage". Funny moments and scary ones - this is never a dull memoir.
Many thanks to Jim for sharing his perspective and stories of the various candidates over the past fifty years when they were "onstage". One thing I know for sure - Anerica will vote for the candidate who knows how to debate candidly, articulately, and unafraid to show some humor in the tense situations as they are being challenged. They better be healthy, trim, and know when to smile, too. No smirking allowed!Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Awesome by leher was has done 1988 bush Dukakis 1992 bush Clinton Perot 1996 Clinton dole 2000 gore bush 2004 bush kerry 2008 Obama
McCain 2012 Obama Romney 15 debates no go... Read more
Tension City by the man himself, Jim Lehrer, gives us a true insider's look at the U.S. Presidential debates for the past half-century. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Daniel Estes
I had high hopes for this book. But it is focused on behind the scenes stuff rather than the debates itself. It does have some interesting insights though.Published on April 24, 2014 by Rhazra
As a veteran moderator of 11 debates, Jim Lehrer brings his own unique perspective to what has become a made for TV event. Read morePublished on March 5, 2014 by Marsha J. Shatz
As others have noted, this is not a comprehensive history of the last 50 years of presidential / vice-presidential debates. Read morePublished on January 24, 2014 by Amazon Customer
TENSION CITY is a middling magazine article masquerading as a book. If you have seen Lehrer's PBS special "Debating Our Destiny," or have paid even passing attention to... Read morePublished on April 13, 2013 by Brian Brockmeyer
Considering the importance of the presidential debates, the book was disappointing to me. It impressed me as superfiscial and dull.Published on April 2, 2013 by bookworm
Jim Lehrer's book, "Tension City " was an interesting read, especially before the election. He writes of behind the scenes manuvering in setting up the Presidential and V. P. Read morePublished on November 9, 2012 by Karconcolo