Current Weather
The Spy FM

Turns Out, There Are Rules For The Debates. Lots

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
October 21, 2012

When President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney meet for their third presidential debate on Monday, there will be some rules for the candidates — and the audience.

In the first debate, Jim Lehrer of PBS demanded “Absolute silence!” While Lehrer caught some flack for letting the candidates freewheel in that debate, when it came to keeping the audience quiet, he meant business.

“If you hear something that’s really terrific, sit on it! If you hear something you don’t like, sit on it!” Lehrer told the audience.

But that’s not the only debate rule — not by far.

On Oct. 15, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin posted online the agreed-upon debate rules. It’s a 21-page document known as a “Memorandum of Understanding.”

It’s a bit of a dry read, but three debates later — that’s two presidential debates and one vice presidential, if you’re counting — it’s pretty clear that both sides are not afraid to break the rules, at least when it comes to debating.

When Romney asked Obama, “Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?” he violated Article 5 of the memorandum, Paragraph E: “The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates.”

And when Obama told moderator Candy Crowley, “It’ll be just one second because — because this is important,” Crowley was just trying to do her job and follow Article 5, Paragraph I, Subsection I: “In each debate, the moderator shall … enforce all time limits.”

The memorandum has all kinds of other provisions for the debates.

Article 5, Paragraph G also dictates proper titles: “President Obama shall be addressed by the moderator as ‘Mr. President’ or ‘President Obama’. Governor Romney shall be addressed by the moderator as ‘Governor’ or ‘Governor Romney.’ “

While the debates can get a bit heated, the memorandum does cover air conditioning in Article 9, Paragraph A, Subsection IX: “The Commission shall use best efforts to maintain an appropriate temperature as agreed to by the campaigns.”

And there is a definite rule against using props in Article 9, Paragraph B, Subsection I: “No candidate shall be permitted to use risers or any other device to create an impression of elevated height …”

It turns out these kinds of rules are not new to this campaign. Many are holdovers from past debates.

Some go way back, says Douglas Wilson, co-director of the Lincoln Studies Center at Knox College. That’s Abraham Lincoln studies, by the way.

Wilson says that Lincoln and Stephen Douglas met for a series of seven debates in 1858, and they haggled over the rules then, too. Things like timing were a big deal, Wilson says.

“One person speaks for an hour,” Wilson says. “The second person speaks for an hour and a half, and the first person gets a half-hour rejoinder.”

But Wilson says 21 pages of sections and subsections would have been a bit over the top back then.

“I don’t think anybody would’ve proposed that,” Wilson says, “because the other guy certainly would’ve used it to make fun of them.”

Of course, back then, the crowd could yell and heckle the candidates all debate long. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

2PM to 3PM PRI's The World

PRI's The World

Get a fresh perspective of people, events and trends that shape our world. Host Lisa Mullins covers a wide range of topics, including science, business, technology, sports, art and music.

Listen Live Now!

3PM to 6PM All Things Considered

All Things Considered

For two hours every weekday, All Things Considered hosts Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block present the program's trademark mix of news, interviews, commentaries, reviews, and offbeat features.

View the program guide!

6PM to 6:30PM Marketplace

Marketplace

Hosted by Kai Ryssdal, award-winning Marketplace is public radio's daily magazine of business and economics.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center