Would you like to know what’s going on inside a politician’s head when he’s in front of the camera in a political debate? What’s the strategy walking in? What’s the disappointment walking out? In Jim Lehrer’s documentaries, George W. Bush reveals his most important goal was to speak clearly and “sling zingers.” Ford regrets his misstatement that there was no Russian dominance in eastern European. Bush I admits looking at his watch to monitor “when this crap would be over.”
Jim Lehrer’s lecture on Feb. 3 kicked off Portland’s month of enriching culture. The Portland International Film Festival, held each February, coincides with the Portland Jazz Festival, World Affairs Council presentations and the Worst Day in the Year Bike Ride.
The opening event featured Lehrer describing post-debate exchanges that he has recorded since 1976 which now comprise two documentaries, Debating our Destiny I and II. He answered questions about ethics in journalism, the degree a reporter should go to seek the truth in an interview and how he became a news reporter in the first place.
Jim Lehrer delivers the news just like independent-minded Oregonians like it – not biased, not filtered, and without political commentary. At the outset of his lecture and Q&A presentation he promised he would field questions from the audience, but that he would keep to his rule about not giving opinions.
The author of 20 novels and the moderator of 11 presidential and vice presidential debates, explained his innate curiosity and the fact that the more he learned about a topic or a candidate the less certain his opinion could be. He remarked, “It’s only fiction where the truth can be told. The more you know about something the less strongly you hold an opinion about it.”
In his pre-lecture press conference with student journalists Lehrer stressed that a good newscaster was like a kid reacting to sirens. What is it? Where? Why? How? Being a good reporter is about learning – all the time.
When asked what kind of correlation he saw between a candidate’s success in a pre-election debate and success in office, Lehrer immediately deferred, as that stepped on his rule about giving commentary. But he did point out that most Americans already have their minds made up about whom to vote for before the debates. What he saw most beneficial was that the contests helped the American public see what the candidates were like. It’s the trivia, the little details, that give the bigger impression. They already know what the candidates have to say about the issues. The debates give them a chance to see what they candidates are like.
From his experience Lehrer noticed that all candidates had a great deal of self-confidence and that none of them were bad people. As a matter of fact, he’s been impressed with what good people they have been – saying that that spoke well for America.
Lehrer admits he’s a positive person. When asked about how he saw the present socio-economic crisis panning out he remarked that through time, and he was born in 1935, he has seen that Americans always overcome their times of travail. Throughout history he has seen that things always got better. He remarked that he believes that the “human spirit is alive and looking forward.”
From my experience in the press conference, a brief moment in a hallway and at the lecture, I observed that Lehrer projects an upbeat, kind, friendly, courteous, energetic man. He’s one of the good guys who reflects back the positive hopeful spirit he sees in our leaders.
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