THE LAST DEBATE by Jim Lehrer

THE LAST DEBATE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

News anchor Lehrer's ninth novel (Fine Lines, 1994, etc.) is set in his own backyard--in the twin contests between the ethics of the journalist as neutral reporter and as responsible citizen, and between journalism and the political process. It's an election year again, but this time only one presidential debate has been scheduled between the two candidates--Paul Green, a lackluster, liberal Democratic governor; and David Donald Meredith, an ultraconservative, fundamentalist racist who has surged ahead in the latest polls. In the hours before the debate in Colonial Williamsburg, Mike Howley, a respected, old-school reporter moderating the panel of three other journalists, comes into possession of documents revealing the detestable Meredith as a man of uncontrollable temper who has a history of physically and verbally abusing women and children. Without verifying the allegations, Howley gets his fellow panelists to abandon the pre-agreed format and sandbag Meredith with questions about abuse. The result: The Republican candidate loses his cool, stalks off the stage after 28 minutes--and throws the election to Paul Greene. Did the "Williamsburg Four" abandon their journalistic standards or act courageously to protect their country from an evil fool? And, having done so, do they have an obligation to say how and why? The tale is narrated by self-righteous investigative reporter Tom Chapman, who easily justifies using bribery, innuendo, misrepresentation, and other investigative chicanery in the name of truth, and who "reports" in new-journalism, novelistic form how he discovered what really went on in the panel selection process, how Howley got the documents and seduced the others to go along, and what happened to them all afterward. Near the close, Chapman's effort to interview Meredith at the Music of the Messiah Life and Living Center in Tashobi, Oklahoma, where all communication is sung, is especially memorable. Broad satire, but entertaining--Lehrer finds plenty of recognizable targets in the heart of the news business.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-44159-X
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1995




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