CBS News Washington bureau chief Bob Schieffer has worked on his network's coverage of every presidential debate since 1976. But Schieffer told TV Guide Magazine he decided to stay out of the fray this time around until he moderates the final presidential debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, in Boca Raton, Fla., on Monday (9/8c).
"When I moderated debates in 2004 and 2008, I took part in the post-debate analysis that led up to mine," he says. "But I think this year it's probably best not to do or say anything before I moderate the last debate." To paraphrase his old colleague Walter Cronkite, that's just the way it is with today's hyper-partisan punditry in cable news and online, where every aspect of the process is open to criticism. All of the other moderators have been dissected in the post-debate discussions. Schieffer chose not to give them a head start.
So what was it like for Schieffer to sit on the sidelines and watch the candidates spar? "There were a couple of times when my wife came to one conclusion and I came to another," he says. "We laughed about that."
Schieffer has also been busy debriefing foreign-affairs experts and correspondents so he'll be ready to query the candidates on what will be their last unfiltered opportunity to reach voters before the Nov. 6 election. The Obama administration's response to the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya is sure to be a topic. Schieffer will want the candidates to address any new developments that may arise. "If something happens five minutes before the debate, I guarantee I'm going to ask about it," says Schieffer, who also expects to have a broader discussion of the Arab uprisings and their implications for the United States.
"What happens next? Where does this go?" Schieffer says. "Is it better for the United States that we have an iron fisted dictator that's friendly to the U.S. or a government in turmoil where we don't know who they're loyal to? There is also the rise of China and how do we manage that. These are things that may be more important than Mitt Romney's income taxes when you get right down to it."
And the Face the Nation moderator knows every debate has the potential to be historic. Even after 43 years at CBS News, he says, "It's one of those things that makes me say, 'Boy, I'm glad I'm a reporter.'"
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