Bob Schieffer thinks he knows why the presidential debate moderators are getting so much flak this year.
It “has something to do with how partisan things have become,” says the CBS News veteran, who will moderate next week’s third and final faceoff between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. “I never heard anybody at a baseball game that their team won criticize the umpires.”
In a video interview, Schieffer also blames the relentless news cycle: “There’s just so many people out there writing about it, blogging about it, tweeting about it. When I came to Washington you had two deadlines a day, one for afternoon papers and one for morning papers…It never stops now.”
The Face the Nation host laughed when I asked if he’s prepared to take a shellacking for his performance. “I’ve been a reporter for 55 years…You’re never going to please all of the people all of the time,” he told me.
Schieffer says he’ll play whatever role is necessary at the Boca Raton debate. If each candidate gives a two-minute response to his question, “and then Obama comes back and says Wait a minute here, let’s just do a little fact-checking here..and then Romney comes back and says you’re absolutely wrong…I’m going to stay out of the way.”
But “if they get off point, if one of them starts to filibuster, which I hope that they won’t, then that’s when I will interject myself into it.”
While the third encounter is devoted to foreign policy, “what these debates are about are really about character. And they’re about whether these candidates exhibit the confidence, and whether they show they have a grasp of the facts…The vote for president comes down to how comfortable people feel with a candidate in times of crisis.”
Since the onetime Texas reporter Schieffer has covered stories dating back to the JFK assassination, he’s not nervous, right?
Well, he cops to this: Schieffer kept thinking about the high stakes when he moderated his first presidential debate in 2004. “For the first time in 25 years, I actually had butterflies.”
He likes baseball analogies—his brother was a co-owner of the Texas Rangers—and reached for another one: “What I try to remember is, I’m the umpire. I am not the guy playing in the World Series.”