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Published: 10/5/2008

Charles Gibson talks about the presidential election and his upcoming broadcast from Bowling Green

Charles Gibson of ABC News is
scheduled to broadcast from Bowling Green State University on Tuesday evening. A month ago, Mr. Gibson was in the spotlight when he became the first network
news anchor to interview GOP
vice presidential nominee Sarah
Palin. Charles Gibson of ABC News is scheduled to broadcast from Bowling Green State University on Tuesday evening. A month ago, Mr. Gibson was in the spotlight when he became the first network news anchor to interview GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
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Charles Gibson has made the news lately almost as much as he reports it, thanks to his heavily-criticized moderation of the April Obama-Clinton debate and much-discussed interview with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin last month.

On Tuesday, Mr. Gibson, anchor of ABC s World News with Charles Gibson, is coming to Bowling Green as part of the Great American Battleground Bus Tour of midsize cities in key battleground states. Mr. Gibson will pay a visit to the campus of Bowling Green State University, where he will anchor the evening s newscast and talk with a group of students after that night s presidential debate.

The Blade recently spoke with Mr. Gibson to talk about the broadcast and the presidential election.

Q:

Is the plan for your stop in Bowling Green on Tuesday to have a group of independent voters to watch that night's presidential debate and then talk with them about what they thought after the debate?

A:

In Bowling Green I think it's mostly going to be students, actually. This is a lot about young people, obviously they've certainly been energized by the Obama campaign and we're going to talk to some concomitant groups who might be more inclined to McCain this time. ... I don't know how much totally impartial thinking we'll get from students, but it will be interesting to hear. There's no question that people are energized in a way that they have not been in elections in my lifetime. The involvement in this election is greater than I've ever seen in recent years.

Q:

What were your impressions of Gov. [Sarah] Palin? Was there anything that happened off-camera that might give voters more insight into her as a candidate and person?

A:

We've ... had requests for dozens of interviews. It's not for me to give impressions. It's all about the person you're interviewing, so the interview stands on it.

Q:

Have you been surprised by how much attention her interviews with you and with Katie Couric have received?

A:

It really is about the interview. I was glad to have it because obviously there was a great deal of interest in it. It was interesting that there was so much interest in it. All of sudden here you are in a hotel in the city of Fairbanks [Alaska], which doesn't have a very large population, and there's all this attention. There's eight people sitting in a room and a camera rolling ... it just seemed surreal to be in such a setting where there's this interview that so many people have talked about. But that's as far as I want to go. The reaction to the interview really needs to be about the interview and not what I have to say.

Q:

What did you think of the vice presidential debate?

A:

If you're looking at these things really as a debate ... Jim Lehrer did his darndest to get some back and forth going last Friday [Sept. 26], but I thought [Governor Palin and Sen. Joe Biden]

engaged each other. I thought you had the closest thing to a real debate that I've seen in a while in these commissioned debates. I think they both had different agendas [Thursday]

night, and they both met those agendas well.

Q:

A criticism from all sides of the political spectrum is that the politicians don't answer the question during these debates. As a moderator of debates, how do you handle that situation and force a direct answer to a question?

A:

You can decide to throw the format away and you can stay on a question for a lot longer than had been intended. Gwen [Ifill] stuck very closely to the format. When I did the debate for the town meeting four years ago, the way it was negotiated, the person to whom the question was directed had two minutes, then the respondent had a minute and a half, so now you're three and half minutes. And at my discretion I could give each one of them 30 extra seconds. Total: four and a half.

Add in a 30-second question and it's a five-minute pod. And you've got an hour and a half, five minutes you blow off with 'Hi, how are yous' and 'That's been the debate' and 'Stay tuned for the next one,' and all that ... so basically you've got 17 five-minute pods. You can decide to stick to that and do 17 separate topics, or you can at your discretion go longer. I didn't have much discretion because the two sides had negotiated a 64-page agreement that I had to follow.

Gwen's thing was a little looser, and she could have gone back more, but she stuck pretty close to the format of those five-minute pods. I think she felt that that's what they negotiated so that's what she would do. It's a choice. You can decide to go back at a question: 'Senator, I don't think you've really answered that,' 'Governor, I don't think you gave us examples I'm looking for,' or you can move on. And she chose most of the time to move on. You sort of have to make the decision each time on a sort of ad hoc basis.

Q:

In light of both parties claiming victory after the vice presidential debate, there hasn't been much discussion of whether Gwen Ifill should have recused herself as debate moderator.

A:

It's pretty well known that she's writing a book. All you had to do was Google Gwen and you would have known that. I think it was an attempt by the McCain people to sort of get in her head. She's a very fair human being, and it wouldn't of taken much to know at the time she was chosen. The McCain people were satisfied with the choice and that was the time to make the objection, and not 48 hours before the debate.

Q:

You and George Stephanopoulos, chief Washington correspondent for ABC News and anchor of ABC's Sunday morning political affairs program, took considerable heat as moderators of the Obama-Clinton debate in April. Particularly the initial line of questioning to the candidates, which Senator Obama called 'gotcha' questions. It's been nearly six months since that debate. What are your thoughts on the criticism now?

A:

It's like the [Palin] interview: It is what it is. I haven't ever spoken about it publicly, and I'm not gonna.

Q:

The mainstream media has come under increasing attack for several years now as being left-leaning. And conservative viewers have the option of Fox News. How has all this affected network news coverage?

A:

Overall, you've got to make sure the coverage balances out in terms of time. We're wrestling with that now. We gave a lot of time to the Palin thing. We're not going to make it absolutely equal because she's new on the scene, so simply ... it's important to expose her, more so than Joe Biden. But we've got to do something fair on the other side as well. We'll do something ... I don't know if it will equal in terms of time, but it will be something featured.

Contact Kirk Baird at kbaird@theblade.com or 419-724-6734.



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