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What hath Hewitt wrought?
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Don Hewitt and George McGovern watch the televised presidential debate. (MPR Photo/Cara Hetland)
The director of the first televised presidential debate watched the first 2004 presidential debate in South Dakota. Don Hewitt was at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. He was the recipient of the 2004 Al Neuharth award for Excellence in Journalism. Hewitt is the creator of the CBS news program "60 Minutes" and he produced the 1960 debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Vermillion, S.D. — Don Hewitt says he doesn't like what's become of televised debates. He says while he's proud he produced the first one, he's sorry that it changed politics.

"And from that moment on the number one qualification to hold office in the world's greatest democracy is the ability to raise money for television time. And virtually no candidate for public office can do with out being in bed with or at least in the pocket of one or more special interests," he said. Hewitt watched the debate between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry with special interest. He wanted a reason to vote at all. He says he couldn't find anything about either candidate he liked.

"I think my mind got changed this evening. I thought Kerry was pretty strong. I think Kerry made the better points and I think I'd feel a little more secure. I'm inclined anyway this evening right this minute after watching this," he said.

John Kerry's performance in the first debate wasn't strong enough to assure Hewitt's vote. In fact, he says a strong showing by President Bush in the next debate might change his mind.

really don't believe that either of them are a great candidate.
- Kristin Malek-Madani

Don Hewitt began his news career in 1942 as a copy boy for the New York Herald Tribune. He was the executive producer for "The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite" and "60 Minutes." He retired in June.

Hewitt spoke before a crowd of about 500 college students, faculty and political junkies. Throughout the debate the audience often laughed and applauded. Hewitt says what he liked most in Kerry was how he came across on television.

"He was articulate," he said. "And I hate to say this; I didn't find my president as articulate and I didn't think he was as sure of himself and I don't think he expressed himself very well."

Former Republican Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby says John Kerry showed star debate qualities. He admits President Bush is not a gifted orator. Kirby says President Bush is consistent.

"I think that is what makes people so comfortable with the president. What he said tonight he has said throughout his four years in the administration. I don't mean to label Sen. Kerry in this way but I privately call him my kaleidescope candidate. Every 10 seconds he's changing. He's been pro-war, anti-war..." he said.

South Dakota native George McGovern, who was a Democratic presidential candidate in 1972, responded to Kirby's comments by saying candidates should be allowed to change their minds. He says thousands of men would be alive today if someone changed their mind about Viet Nam.

This is the first presidential election in which Jamie Wilson, 19, can vote. She says she's not sure yet if she'll vote. The freshman journalism student says she likes and dislikes some things about each of the candidates. She says she won't base her vote on the war and the focus of the first debate. Wilson's vote will be decided on other issues.

"To me it would be I guess where they stand on gay marriage and education and I think that's about it. Those are the two most important to me," according to Wilson.

It's also the first presidential election for sophomore Kristin Malek-Madani. She was leaning toward Kerry before the debate.

"I really don't believe that either of them are a great candidate. However I'm going to vote for Kerry because he's more in line to my own personal ideology and I don't think Bush has done that great of a job so far," she said.

Both students say they'll watch the remaining presidential debates to shape and confirm their votes.

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