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McCain, Obama deal puts limits on "town hall" debate

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WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama and John McCain meet for a second debate Tuesday night with a "town hall" format, but a deal made between the camps limits the interaction the candidates will have with the undecided voters in the pool of questioners.

Almost every important detail about the debates -- three presidential and one vice presidential -- is governed by a 31-page "memorandum of understanding." It was collegially negotiated between the Obama and McCain camps and covers everything from how the candidates are addressed to the permissible camera shots.

The campaign pact was worked out by Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and attorney Robert Barnett, representing Obama, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Brett O'Donnell, a former debate coach at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, representing McCain.

Tuesday's match-up at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., will be moderated by NBC's Tom Brokaw, with the questions to be culled from a group of 100 to 150 uncommitted likely voters in the audience and another one-third to come via the Internet. The Gallup Organization -- as in past debates like this -- has the job of making sure the questioners reflect the demographic makeup of the nation.

Brokaw selects the questions to ask from written queries submitted prior to the debate, according to the "contract."

An audience member will not be allowed to switch questions. Under the deal, the moderator may not ask followups or make comments. The person who asks the question will not be allowed a follow-up either, and his or her microphone will be turned off after the question is read. A camera shot will only be shown of the person asking -- not reacting.

While there will be director's chairs (with backs and foot rests), McCain and Obama will be allowed to stand -- but they can't roam past their "designated area" to be marked on the stage. McCain and Obama are not supposed to ask each other direct questions.

As in all the debates, the contenders cannot bring in notes, though they can take them once at the lectern.

Sarah Palin seemed to be looking at notes several times during her debate with Joe Biden. Each candidate is allowed to "take notes during the debate on the size, color and type of blank paper that each prefers."

And I'll dub this the "Lazio" rule.

A reason Rep. Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) lost his Senate bid against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000 was when he walked from his lectern to Clinton and demanded that she sign a pledge not to take soft money, he looked like a bully. Anyway, in 2008, the candidates are banned during the debates from moving to the other side -- and from wielding proposed pledges.

24 Comments

Sanator McCain:

Recently I saw an interview as you spoke about your sense of integrity and how it gives direction your your life. In view of this, I ask how you can reconcile your sense of integrity with your lie to David Letterman: when you said you were on your way to the airport to get back to DC for the bailout debate. We now know that you did not leave New York until the next day, went to your home and made phone calls. Please explain and justify.

I am very surprised at the level of pre-arrangements in such debates. I must say that it somewhat delutes the meanning of debating because the exchange it's more like an acting exercise rather than a direct conversation. I understand that there is no much that the candidates can do if this are the custom rules for presidential debates. However, what we really want to know/hear is the 'person' behind the 'candidate' and see how he deals with the challenge. I guess that this is a privilege that democracy cannot (yet) deliver. In the meantime let us judge the person for what he has said and done troughout the campaign and look at the 'debate' just as a polished summery of it.
The question is has been more honest, inspired the most, done the best and been consistent.
Not need to mantion his name...

Brokaw is the outreach contact for the McCain campaign and NBC. His bias has been showing on Meet the Press. I'm not sure he'll be a very good moderator.

During the VP debate, not only was Palin looking at notes, she actually turned the page over at one point (it shows on the videotape). I don't believe she took two pages of on the spot "notes" - so what's the real story???

How is it possible McCain and Palin are so concerned about Obama's so-called ties to "terrorists" now, 30 days before the election, versus all this time they've been campaigning? If Obama was such a dire threat to our society, wouldn't they have tried to warn us all about this at least a few weeks ago??

THAT's what I call transparency....

Warning Will Robinson, warning.

Has no one looked at Belmont University? I spoke at that school once and its an EXTREMELY conservative Christian school--lots of Southern Baptist. I even stayed the night and spent hours talking to the students. I support Obama--and have emailed and called to give him the heads up that he is walking into a town hall format at a very conservative school--but no one seems to be writing, talking or even aware of this. Whoops.

christopherscottirwin@yahoo.com

What's described above sounds like the Soviet Union, albeit during the early stages of glasnost. The only way to get real answers out of BHO and McCain is for regular citizens to go to their public appearances, ask them real questions on video, and then upload their responses to Youtube.

Ms. Sweet: I would be interested in hearing if you've ever seen Obama in a Town Hall type event sharing the stage with an opponent.

Lying to David Letterman - if that's what McCain did - is an act of high integrity.

Unthinking lefty MSM Hollywood-suck-up twits such as David Letterman do not deserve the truth. So McCain was classy enough to give Letterman exactly what, morally, he deserved.

One more thing: Do not, Clarence L. Roark, call yourself "Roark" again. You don't deserve that name.

You may call yourself "Ellsworth Toohey," instead.

Brian,

The road to the White House goes through David Letterman. When McCain dissed Dave, he dissed the flag, Mom, and apple pie. McCain is a total jerk who wants to take his temper and tie patriotic Americans to a stake and flagellate them because he suffers from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder. Obama, on the other hand, wants to do the greatest good for the largest number of Americans. Obama is a patriot. McCain is a lying traitor who couldn't fly an airplane straight.

The Big Al

Wow, Brian, if you are the type of guy that votes for McCain, poor America. Btw, why are you so scared of 'lefty' people? In Europe we have communists, socialist, liberals (we call them right wing, you know), left and right wing catholics, extreme right wing fascist parties, all free to express themselves. America, the Land of the Free?
And 24Ahead is right, the way you organise a debate is scary! No freedom there whatsoever. What are they afraid of? If the candidates can't handle themselves in a harmless debate, what are they gonna do when they are presidents and have to tackle real hard problems? Hope Obama wins, and then there maybe, just maybe, is hope for a better America and a safer world.

MCCAIN CAN'T WALK AROUND LIKE HE OWNS THE STAGE,
HE IS LOSING BIG TIME, AND AFTER TUESDAY NIGHT,
HE CAN LOAD UP THE PLANE AND GO HOME!

Town Hall format? This is a joke. If the people asking the questions can not come back at the candidates after they give their answers then we will have to rely on the MSM to report the lies that spew from their mouths as if they are facts. At real town hall meetings the questions are not subject to approval they are just asked. They should have selected questioners by drawing numbers and nobody, but the questioner whose number was drawn, should know before hand what the questions will be. Does this mean that Obama will not have to explain what a "typical" white person is or why he stayed in a black separatist, anti-white church for 20 years or what changed that made him decide it was finally time to leave it?

Where can I submit an intenet question?

Will questions be asked tonight about the impact of their vice-presidential choices? This concerns Sarah Palin's connection with the Alaska Liberation party (Alaska freeing itself from the United States), involvement with a controversial minister, and the troupergate scandal that is currently being investigated in Alaska. This clearly shows that McCain shows a lack of good judgement when making decisions.

Does this format mean that John McCain won't have to explain his friendship with convicted felon and terrorist G. Gordon Liddy, or his membership on the board of an anti-Semitic organization? Does it mean that McCain won't have to explain why his brother called people who live in suburbs "communists?"

@tiredofit - The so-called "town halls" McCain has been holding aren't exactly kosher, either. He may not pre-approve the questions, but you can bet his campaign pre-screens the people who get in.

As for keeping the questions more or less relevant to the job these two are applying for, I'm all for it. If you want to talk about Obama's former church, we can also talk about Sarah Palin's former church as well. While we're at it, we can also talk about her husband's association with that Alaskan secessionist group, McCain's connection to the Keating scandal, what really went on in Hanoi, all kinds of things. Do you REALLY want that?

I hope somebody changes their question on the spot. You know it's bound to happen. I'd love to see somebody whip out either of these:

"Senator Obama, why is it considered racist for white people to not want to vote for you because you are black but NOT racist for black people to want to vote for you for that very same reason?"

or

"Senator McCain, why do you think your wife is a cunt?"

but mostly I'd like someone to simply ask:

"This question is for both of you...why are you unwilling to have an actual debate or town hall meeting where people like me can ask you real questions and get real answers instead of having this farce of a 'debate' where you are not allowed to actually debate each other and nobody is allowed to ask questions that have not been pre-approved and is about as real as an episode of 'The Hills'? In short, why do you both hate America so much?"

I agree that this is a wierd way to hold a 'debate'.
But maybe this will keep McCain on track to at least try and answer some questions about the issues and not drag someones character, because he is way behind in the polls, through the mud.
Yes, Obama has bought up mud, but ONLY because McCain decided to go down that track, you can't just stand by and let someone discredit you and you say nothing. This country needs a level head and sane leadership, Obama has those qualities.

I long for the day when a real journalist like Seymour Hersh is a debate moderator, not some millionaire newsreader blatherer like Brokaw.

Tiredofit, Since you have revealed your prejudice, BHO certainly hopes that you are not a "typical" white person. Both JSM and Bullwinkle Palin are resorting to inciting fear and hatred to a point of mob mentality where audience members shouted "terrorist" and "kill him" yesterday in Florida. This is beyond despicable. America's only hope is that these venomous gatherings do not reflect the will of decent,hardworking citizens who are crying out for leadership in the midst of the worst financial crisis ever.Is this what McCain calls putting "Country First"!?
You might ask why Gov.Bullwinkle would stay in a congregation which claims to exorcise witches.

Funny when times get rough for Palin and Mcains dumb asses they resort to incredibly corny, outrageous stories to hurt Obamas status. Sore losers? I bet Obama really had a lot to do with all that Ayers riffraff when he was just EIGHT YEARS old. Are these people F#*$(#G kidding me?

Brian, McCain used the Letterman show to announce his candidacy for President. If he can use them to gain exposure then he can deal with the lies he told Letterman. Making excuses for a liar only makes you an accomplice, not a defender.

IS IT ME OR IS TOM BROKAW ALWAYS MENTIONING TIME WITH BARAK OBAMA, BUT NOT WITH MCCAIN?!?! IT SEEMS HE IS CHOOSING SIDES AND TRYING TO GIVE MCCAIN MORE TIME!! HOW ONE SIDED CAN YOU GET!!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 6, 2008 7:54 AM.

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