Debate Rules Shut Out Local TV

It's official: There will be three presidential debates -- including one town-hall format -- plus one vice-presidential square-off. But that will be it.

The agreement prevents either side from from calling for any more debates, and both sides from appearing in any other on-air debate, including accepting any offers of free time from national or local TV or radio outlets for debates.

The campaigns signed on the dotted line (OK, it was an undotted line) on Monday.

Despite a report that Republicans might balk at the participation of moderator Bob Scheiffer in the wake of the CBS National Guard document flap, the Bush campaign signed off on all four moderators, including CBS' top Washington journalist.

The other moderators are Jim Lehrer, Charles Gibson and Gwen Ifill.

It will hardly be a case of put 'em together and let 'em have at it, however. The negotiated rules circumscribing the debate are many, including just how the media will be able to carry the contest.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • TV coverage during the debate will be limited to candidate or moderator shots, with no family or audience reaction shots.
  • Candidate shots will be limited to the candidate speaking, with no cut-aways to the candidate not then responding (last time around, Al Gore got caught during a cut-away sighing deeply during Bush answers).
  • There will be no shots of the candidates from behind.
  • Neither candidate can use video from the debates in their campaigns.
  • Neither can accept TV or radio airtime that involves a debate format.
  • Candidates may not ask each other questions--which puts the power in the hands of the moderators--though they can pose rhetorical questions.
  • The order of questioning and closing statements for the debates will be determined by...a coin toss.
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.