60 Minutes founder receives Neuharth award Former U.S. Sen. George McGovern (center) speaks to moderator Jack Marsh (left) during an analysis of last Thursday's presidential debate in Slagle Auditorium. Listening are Don Hewitt, who earlier in the evening accepted the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism, and Steve Kirby, former lieutenant governor. by David Lias The man who produced and directed the first face-to-face television debate between presidential nominees John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 said his views were changed by last Thursday's debate between President George W. Bush and his challenger, Sen. John Kerry.
"I was uncertain whether I wanted to vote for either one of them," said Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes. "I'm inclined to think at this moment that I might be leaning toward the Democrat. He was articulate. I didn't find my president as articulate. And I didn't think he was as sure of himself. Nor did he express himself as well."
Hewitt was in Vermillion Sept. 30 to accept the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in Journalism.
The award presentation took place that evening in Slagle Auditorium, in a carefully orchestrated program.
Neuharth, a USD alum and founder of USA Today and the Freedom Forum, presented the award shortly after 7 p.m., giving Hewitt time to speak to an audience of approximately 1,000 people in the auditorium before the debate began.
The audience and a panel made up of Hewitt, former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, and Steve Kirby, former lieutenant governor and 2002 gubernatorial candidate, watched the debate together on a large screen.
"I had already made up my mind," admitted McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who represented a Democratic point of view in the discussion that followed the debate. "I will say this, I didn't think either candidate scored a knockout punch."
He said Sen. Kerry's strongest point of the evening was that the Iraq war was a mistake in terms of the war on terrorism.
"I've said so many times over myself," said McGovern.
Kirby, representing a Republican perspective, said that while Bush is not a gifted orator, he is concise and consistent.
"That is what makes people so comfortable with the president," he said. "He said the same thing tonight as he's said for the last four years in his administration."
"I wish he (Kerry) had not voted for the (Iraq) war resolution," McGovern said. "That's been his principal problem in this campaign, because he's come to realize this war is a mistake and yet he voted for the war resolution."
Kirby said he calls Kerry a "kaleidoscope candidate" because his positions on issues change so much.
"He's been pro-war and antiwar on a number of occasions," he said.
Hewitt said he could have agreed with that sentiment before the debate, but Kerry had proven himself.
"You never knew where he stood on the whole thing," he said. "I think tonight he made it quite clear where he stood."
When the discussion came to the Iraq war, Kirby was rebutted by both participants.
"We are at war now, and I think decisive, consistent leadership is going to hold the day," Kirby said.
Hewitt said he hadn't seen any decisive, consistent leadership.
"I think we've blundered," he said. "And I think this country is too good to blunder into a war you can't win, in a country (Bush's) own father said you couldn't win a war in."
"It's a sin to lie and to deceive the public," added McGovern. "But for a leader to change his mind is not necessarily bad."
He said he tried for 10 years to get leaders in the 1960s and '70s to change their minds about Vietnam.
"A lot of these young guys that were killed over there in Vietnam would still be alive if they had changed their minds," McGovern said.
In the end, Hewitt had the strongest words of support for Kerry's performance.
"I think he looked more presidential," he said. "I saw a Franklin Roosevelt. I saw a Ronald Reagan. I saw a Dwight Eisenhower in Kerry."
But, Hewitt said, that opinion could change over the next two debates.