Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Panel Won't Sign Agreement but Will Enforce Stipulations

Buried at the end of this article is the following:
"the Fox News Channel ... is telecasting the first debate on Thursday for the major news networks planning to carry it"

The New York Times
September 28, 2004

Panel Won't Sign Agreement but Will Enforce Stipulations

WASHINGTON, Sept. 27 - The Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday that it would enforce many of the stipulations agreed to by the campaigns of President Bush and Senator John Kerry, but that it would not sign the agreement itself - which aides to Mr. Bush had indicated was a prerequisite for his participation in the debates.

The 32-page agreement, released last Monday, included a provision that gave the candidates the right to walk away from its terms if the commission did not sign it. Mr. Kerry's campaign aides indicated last week that they would not make an issue of whether the commission signed the agreement, something it has never been asked to do before. Mr. Bush's campaign indicated that it might.

But after the commission said Monday that its decision not to sign the agreement was final, Mr. Bush's campaign said it was satisfied with a statement the commission posted on its Web site that said "the debate format rules will be enforced as stated in the Sept. 20 memorandum."

Mark Wallace, Mr. Bush's deputy campaign manager, said, "We're pleased that the commission has agreed to uphold the terms of the agreement."

Still, officials of the debate commission said they were agreeing primarily to those things Mr. Bush's aides had emphasized as especially important to them: a strict time limit on candidate responses, an electronic warning when candidates exceed their speaking time that can be seen and heard by viewers at home, and a prohibition against the candidates' directly posing questions to each other.

One official said the commission would probably not abide by the agreement's stipulation that the audience at the Oct. 8 town-hall-style debate in Missouri be composed of people who are "soft supporters" of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush, meaning they had not solidly made up their minds but were leaning one way or another. The commission had proposed that the audience be filled with strictly undecided voters.

But a senior Bush campaign official noted that the commission said in its statement, "There will be no departure from the terms of the memorandum without prior consultation with and approval by the appropriate campaign representatives."

"I'm unaware of any such prior approval or consultation,'' said the official, who said he expected the point to be worked out between the parties.

Debate commission officials also said they could not and would not enforce the agreement's stipulation that network cameras refrain from showing Mr. Bush when Mr. Kerry was speaking, and vice versa.

"There are certain things that are clearly beyond our control," said Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., a co-chairman of the commission. "We don't control the feed so we don't know what the networks are going to show; that's not within our purview."

Paul Schur, a spokesman for the Fox News Channel, which is telecasting the first debate on Thursday for the major news networks planning to carry it, said, "Because of journalistic standards, we're not going to follow outside restrictions."

Mr. Fahrenkopf also said that the debate moderators had no plans to sign the agreement either, despite a provision in the memorandum allowing the campaigns to replace those who refuse to sign. Aides to both candidates indicated that they would not push the issue.