For the first time in the brief history of televised presidential debates, the candidates next Tuesday will be able to bypass their questioners and challenge one another directly.
Under the format worked out by representatives of President Carter, Ronald Reagan and the League of Women Voters, there will be opportunity for challenge and rebuttal when the candidates debate in Cleveland.
The format is in two parts. In the first, each of the four panelists will pose one question to be answered by both candidates. In this half, the panelists will be able to ask a follow-up question. Ten minutes is allotted for each set of questions and answers.
In the second half, the candidates get two-minute answers to each question, then are allowed 1 1/2 minutes each for rebuttal and another minute for surrebuttal. The candidates alternate in each response-rebuttal-surrebuttal sequence.
The first televised presidential debates matched John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960. They were questioned by four panelists and 2 1/2 minutes were permitted for each response.
In the next debates, in 1976, Carter and Gerald R. Ford were allowed three-minute answers and two minutes for replies to follow-up questions. The second candidate was allowed two minutes for rebuttal and each was given four minutes for a closing statement.
On Tuesday, each man will be permitted a three-minute close. The program, 90 minutes long, will be televised by the three commercial networks and the Public Broadcasting Service. It will be broadcast on radio by ABC, CBS, NBC, Associated Press Radio, National Public Radio, United Press International Audio and the Mutual Broadcasting System.
The Cable News Network plans a two-hour television broadcast that will include not only the debate in Cleveland, but also will cut to Washington's Constitution Hall where independent candidate John B. Anderson will add his responses to those of Carter and Reagan.