The Meek School of Journalism and New Media

The University of Mississippi

Janet Brown, director of presidential debates, speaks at Overby Center

Posted on: April 6th, 2018 by ldrucker

Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates who was instrumental in bringing the first 2008 debate to the Ole Miss campus, was the featured guest in a discussion Tuesday, April 10, at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics about the merits of holding the high-stakes political confrontation.

The program was the fifth of the spring season at the Overby Center. All Overby Center functions are free and open to the public.

Brown served as a guest lecturer for two weeks at the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at Ole Miss, but she has a longer history with Mississippi and the university. Her grandparents were residents of Como, and she has frequently visited the state.

Ten years ago, she was the key force behind the debate between Barack Obama and John McCain, a dramatic moment during the campaign when McCain, the Republican nominee, threatened to pull out of the encounter in order to pay more attention to an economic crisis.

She spoke about her experiences over the past 30 years as head of the non-partisan commission and her thoughts about the value of presidential debates in a discussion with Charles Overby, chairman of the center, Overby Fellow Curtis Wilkie, who is teaching the Honors College class on presidential debates with Brown, and Tom Oliphant, a former political columnist for The Boston Globe. As journalists, Overby, Wilkie and Oliphant covered many of the debates after they became a regular practice in 1976.

“Janet is the country’s presidential debate czar,” said Overby. “She has overseen the evolution of the debates. She knows the inside stories of these historical events.”

The Overby Center season will conclude April 17 with an appearance by Tucker Carrington, director of the Innocence Project at the Ole Miss law school, and Radley Balko, an investigative reporter for The Washington Post. Carrington and Balko are authors of a new book, “The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist,” an exposé about misbehavior by Mississippi officials which led to the convictions of innocent defendants.

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