President Obama and Mitt Romney face off on foreign policy issues in tonight’s third and final presidential debate. As the candidates discuss America’s role on the international stage, Las Vegas’ Howard Beckerman shares thoughts on a role that has unexpectedly moved to center stage - debate moderator.
Beckerman, vice president of the Sinai Temple Men’s Club, refereed the 4th Congressional District candidates’ debate. Unlike Jim Lehrer, who was criticized for letting the candidates ramble, when Beckerman moderated the match between Danny Tarkanian and Steven Horsford, he agressively stepped in with lines like “Boys, knock it off,” and “This is a house of the Lord.”
And that was just what he said to the candidates. He also had to keep the audience in line.
“You want to focus on the candidates and you don’t have time to spend a minute or two talking to the audience and saying ‘this is how we’re going to do it,'" says Beckman. "So I just turned to one person (in the audience) and said ‘My show, my rules.’”
Beckerman, unlike Lehrer and the moderator of tonight’s debate, Bob Schieffer, isn't a journalist. But he has given careful consideration as to what a moderator can do to get more substance than sound bites out of the candidates.
“John Roberts, the Chief Justice, said that it is his job to call balls and strikes,” says Beckerman. “As the moderator, you’re more of a basketball referee, because you cannot call every foul – otherwise you would stop the action, stop the flow, stop the moment. So you have to give the candidates a certain amount of rope - they can get away with a little bit.”
Of the three journalists moderating the presidential debates, Beckerman says the best so far was Martha Raddatz, because she steered the candidates away from negativity, which he thinks makes the candidates more appealing to undecided voters. He tried that same approach for the 4th Congressional District debate.
“I told the candidates and the audience right off the bat that I wouldn’t accept any personal attacks," says Beckerman. “Both candidates have some minor skeletons in their closet, and while they may be relevant in advertising and mailers, they would not be relevant to the debate. We would debate the issues.”
Beckerman says Bob Schieffer will go into the third debate on Monday night with the advantage of having seen the previous two.
“You see what worked and what didn’t work and what the candidates are capable of. Bob Schieffer is going to sit down and say ‘OK, I know I can give them a certain amount of rope, but I have to interject myself every once and awhile to make sure they stay on point.’”
But you never know, says Beckerman. Success as a journalist is no guarantee of success as a debate moderator.
“I have great respect for Bob Schieffer, he’s been a great news man for many years,” says Beckerman. “But I also had a lot of respect for Jim Lehrer, and he let the debate get out of hand.”