Jim Lehrer: This time I mean it, no more debates

PBS newsman Jim Lehrer won’t host any more presidential debates, he told The Hill.

Lehrer broke an earlier vow to stop his hosting duties when, during the 2012 election cycle, he moderated the first debate between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

But after that experience, in which Lehrer was criticized for allowing the candidates to go over their time limits, he vows that this time, he really means it.

“Certainly — the day that hell freezes over,” Lehrer said when asked if he would moderate again.

“No,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing another one. It’s not in the cards. The answer is no.”

He admitted the criticism in 2012 bothered him, but said he’s since moved on.

“I didn’t like it. But so what? I dealt with it,” he said.

Lehrer said he let Obama and Romney talk over the limits because he wanted a real debate, and because they were engaging each other on issues that mattered.

“If they had started arguing about color of ties or whatever, I would have stepped in,” he said. He noted he chose not to step in, and it “was a hard decision.”

“But it was all part of the decision made beforehand: If they start talking, let them talk,” he said.

In a debate, he said, “It’s not about the moderator.”

Lehrer was quick to point out that after he explained his reasons for not stepping in, most of his critics backed off.

“They didn’t understand what was going on, or they got it wrong,” he said. “They admitted it.”

Lehrer spoke about his debate performance in an interview for The Hill with his former PBS co-anchor Robert MacNeil on the anniversary of their partnership.

“It’s about as stressful a thing anyone in our business can do,” MacNeil said of hosting a debate.

Lehrer is known as the “Dean of Moderators,” having hosted 12 presidential debates.

He said he would prepare for days before a debate, and he still got nervous.

“I didn’t sleep much before,” he said of the 2012 debate. “I just couldn’t sleep.”

Emily Goodin