Debate Moderator Jim Lehrer

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Jim Lehrer, anchor of The News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

When John McCain and Barack Obama square off in the first presidential debate on Sept. 26, the referee of the candidates' slugfest will be Jim Lehrer. A veteran of 10 presidential debates over the last five elections, Lehrer brings an nonconfrontational style to an increasingly acrimonious campaign.

While he's been the target of occasional criticism for failing to bludgeon candidates with tricky questions and gotcha set-ups, his even-keeled approach has sustained Lehrer's enduring broadcasting career. The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer (and its previous incarnations) has been a staple on PBS since 1975. "Objectivity is almost impossible. Fairness is never impossible," Lehrer said in a speech at Brown University. "And all that people have a right to expect is that they will be treated fairly." It may sound like hairsplitting, but this belief ­ — that in their work, journalists must actively conquer their own views to promote public debate — has made his show a haven of reasoned discourse amid the cacophony of cable news.

Fast facts:

• Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1934, the son of a teacher and a bus station manager.

• He's been married to his wife, Kate, since 1960. They have three daughters.

• Has penned 18 novels, two memoirs and three plays. His most recent novel, published in April, 2008, is titled Mack to the Rescue. It's the seventh in a series centered around a fictional lieutenant governor of Oklahoma.

• After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1956, he joined the Marines, and served as an infantry officer based largely on the Japanese island of Okinawa

• Before he got his start as a broadcaster, he was a reporter at the Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times Herald (where he also served as an editor)

•His home contains a mini-shrine to buses, with memorabilia from companies like Greyhound papered on the walls

Quotes about Lehrer:

• On his moderating style: "Lehrer proves time and time again he puts himself in the shoes of the voter...and asks questions that are going to draw out these candidates, rather than trip them up." (Judy Woodruff, a colleague on Lehrer's NewsHour)

• On his appeal: "I see Jim as a populist, a surrogate for the audience." (Robert Wilson, who gave Lehrer his first job in broadcasting at Dallas public television station KERA-TV in 1970.)

• On his attire: A "decidedly unblow-dried" man who "dresses in the rumpled, loosened-tie fashion of the newspaper city editor he once was." (Paul Droesch, writing in TV Guide in 1982)

Quotes by Lehrer:

• On moderating: "You should be the coolest you've ever been and the most sober in realizing this is historical and important for the democratic process and the American voters, and you are the least important part."

• On the nature of journalism: ""Most of the stories I have covered in 45 years have been gray stories. There are very few really stark black and white stories."

• On the importance of debate: "I think all kinds of discourse is good for our democratic society — civil discourse, uncivil discourse, screaming, hollering, poetry, however you want to have a discussion is fine with me. I'm in the civil discourse business."

(Click here for 10 Memorable Debate Moments.)