Sheila Blackford is library specialist for Miller Center of Public Affairs.
I asked her few questions.
1) How many people watch the presidential speeches in Miller site?
The Presidential Speech Archive at the Miller Center of Public Affairs gets almost 10 percent of the Center’s total web traffic. In raw numbers that means that the detail pages for the speeches plus the main page were viewed more than 81,500 times in the last month (from February 21 to March 24, 2010).
2) For Miller institute, is it very hard to get in possess with old video of former presidents?
To obtain a copy of the presidential speeches, the Miller Center partners with the National Archives presidential libraries (for example, the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum--http://www.lbjlib.
3) Who owns the copyright of speeches of former presidents?
We post the videos on our site under the assumption that they are in the public domain. However, we recommend that anyone wishing to use or copy the video speeches, contact the relevant presidential library to get a definitive statement about the copyright before proceeding because we are not the official custodians of the records and cannot make a definitive statement about the copyright status.
4) Do you think that the presidential debates are decisive or, most of the times, is it a just a show for the media industry?
There have been moments in presidential election history where the presidential debates have made a difference in the election. Most famously are the Nixon/Kennedy debates of 1960, which historians argue helped tip the balance toward Kennedy. However, generally they are not a decisive event but help people learn more about the candidates and their positions, and reaffirm for the voters the candidate that they already preferred.
Alan Schroeder is an associate professor at Northeastern University (Boston) and he wrote a book called Presidential Debates: 40 Years of High-Risk TV (Columbia University Press, 2000)
I asked him few questions.
1) Do you think that the presidential debates are decisive or, most of the times, is it a just a show for the media industry?
In some cases they have been very influential, such as 1960 with Kennedy and Nixon and also 1980 with Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Decisive is probably too strong a word, because it's impossible to separate debates from all the other factors that influence voting decisions.
2) This year, for first time in history, there will be a general election debate in UK (with 3 candidates). What do you think about foreign "adaptations" of US presidential debates? Do you think it will work among 3 speakers or will lose "duel-like" style?
Three debaters on the stage does change the dynamic, though it's impossible to predict how the format will work in the UK prime minister debates. In the US we had one round of three-way debates in 1992 that included the first President Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. Perot more or less won the first debate, Clinton won the second, and Bush performed well in the third. So who knows?
3) On 1968 Nixon ran again for White House, on 1972 he sought a second term and both times refused to challenge in presidential debates (i would say he could do that because there was not an established tradition of having presidential debates). I think that today a candidate for the White House can not refuse a debate (like Nixon did on 1968 and 1972). Since when, can't a candidate say "No, i won't go in a presidential debate" without seeming weak?
4) Who had the idea of a televised (and radio broadcast too) presidential debate in 1960?
5) Using Internet, do you think it's possible to make innovations to presidential debates?
6) Who owns the copyright of presidential debates? Broadcasters or speakers?
7) We know that presidential candidates prepare for the debates: How can they prepare? Which advice would you give to a candidate?
Candidates prepare for debates in a variety of ways. In US presidential debates it is typical for the candidates to undergo full-scale rehearsals involving mock opponents, using the exact format of the actual debate. Candidates also do extensive reading about the issues and about their opponents' positions in order to prepare for debates. Typically the practice sessions are videotaped and critiqued by the candidates' advisors.
As for advice, I would remind candidates that debates are a different form of political performance than other campaign appearances such as press conferences, speeches, and interviews. Candidates need to have a thorough understanding of the format and also of their specific objectives for each debate. Finally, I would say that in spite of the pressure, candidates should try to enjoy the debate, because voters want to see a leader who is self-confident and in command of the situation.