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Bob Schieffer on Jon Stewart, Past TV Debates

In addition to topics discussed for my B&C Oct. 13 column, Bob Schieffer, who will be moderating Wednesday’s final presidential debate of 2008, also addressed other issues – and, unlike certain candidates at certain times, actually answered them:

How important do you think entertainment – such as NBC’s Saturday Night Live sketches and Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is in informing politics?

I think it’s very important. I think the late-night shows, Jon Stewart, [Stephen] Colbert – all of these programs are very, very important. I know some people see Jon Stewart as some sort of threat to the republic or something, but I don’t at all. Number one, Jon is a very smart guy.

And I think these programs are to television what the editorial page cartoonist is to the newspaper. The editorial page cartoonist is the only guy on the newspaper who has the right to lie. Because that’s what parody is. He takes it one step beyond where it is, and it helps us to see things sometimes in a much clearer way…

I think we learn from these programs. I don’t think a person can be completely informed, or well-informed, if he only looked at the editorial page cartoon. I think you have to look at the rest of the newspaper, too. And so I think you have to watch more than Jon Stewart to be informed – but I think sometimes these broadcasts help us to understand things.

Which televised debate, other than the inaugural one between Richard Nixon and John F. Kenedy in 1960, did you think had the most impact on the election?

I think the one where it probably made as much difference as any that I can remember was when Ronald Reagan was running for re-election in 1984. A lot of people thought that maybe Reagan was sort of losing it, that maybe the old fellow didn’t have it any more. And they were kind of concerned about that, and the polls showed that they were.

And he had just a terrible first debate, when he went off in one answer and it just became clear he’d lost his train of thought. But he came back in the second debate – and when he said that he would not hold Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience against him, I think, at that moment, people said, ‘The old fellow’s still got it, that’s all we needed to know.’ And he went on to win in a landslide.”

(Those 1984 debates, incidentally, remain, to this point, the most-viewed in TV history, pulling some 80 million viewers.)