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More From Newsweek: Debate Format and Climate Change

Many are fascinated by the behind-the-scenes campaign news/gossip reported in Newsweek’s election special. One of the more interesting tidbits to me was that both candidates were somewhat uncomfortable with the format of the presidential debates.

Newsweek reports this quote from Barack Obama while he was preparing for a debate — a quote which, as an environment reporter, I absolutely love.

“I don’t consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that's green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f***ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective.’”

From an environmental perspective, what I like about this quote is that it highlights the needs to address the root problems of climate change and to come up with large-scale solutions.

From an observer’s standpoint, the quote confirms my longtime feeling that the basic format of these debates produces an outcome that’s contrived, rehearsed and insincere. The funny thing is, Jim Lehrer, who moderated the first presidential debates, feels the same way.

According to Lawrence O’Donnell, a writer for “The West Wing,” Lehrer told him that he has wanted to break with the format for a long time. O’Donnell tried to get Lehrer to appear on “The West Wing” to host a fictional presidential debate in which the candidates, played by Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, would completely break with the usual format and engage with each other — ie., have a real debate.

While Lehrer couldn’t appear on the show because of a PBS rule that he wrote, he reportedly wanted to emulate the fictional debate, asking debate commissioners to watch tapes of the show to get some pointers. That’s why Lehrer tried to get Obama and Sen. John McCain to actually talk to each other.

O’Donnell talked about all this in commentary on MSNBC here.

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