Jon Breen, moderator of historic 1980 presidential debate in Nashua, dies

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent
September 21. 2017 7:30PM
Candidates Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush flank then- Nashua Telegraph editor Jon Breen in a 1980 presidential forum in Nashua. Breen's effort to cut off Reagan led to the future President's angry response, "I'm paying for this microphone, Mr. Green." (REAGAN PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY)

JON BREEN (Courtesy)

NASHUA — The former Telegraph editor whose 15 minutes of fame involved one of the most memorable presidential debate moments in history, has died at the age of 81.

Jon Breen, who was best known for ordering the sound technician to turn off Ronald Reagan’s microphone during a 1980 presidential debate in the Gate City, passed away Sept. 14 at a hospice facility in Dover.

“It was the biggest thing in presidential politics at the time,” Dean Shalhoup, senior reporter at The Telegraph, said Thursday after learning of Breen’s death and reminiscing about the momentous debate.

Shalhoup was at the debate assigned to take photographs for the city newspaper. The event, according to Shalhoup, was hosted by The Telegraph, however Reagan agreed to underwrite the debate after a big controversy over whether candidates besides himself and George H.W. Bush would participate.

At the start of the debate, which was moderated by Breen, Bush and Reagan took their seats when Reagan asked to make an announcement and Breen interrupted.

“Would the sound man please turn Mr. Reagan’s (microphone) off,” said Breen, at which point a frustrated Reagan stood with his microphone in hand and uttered what eventually became arguably one of the most memorable debate quotes ever.

“I am paying for this microphone Mr. Green,” yelled Reagan, a comment that was met with thunderous applause.

“The place went bonkers. The whole place went into tears laughing. Mr. Breen’s face turned purple,” Shalhoup recalled, noting that Reagan incorrectly referred to Breen as Green, probably due to Reagan’s trouble hearing in the packed Nashua High School gymnasium.

All of the other presidential candidates were present and walked out onto the stage at that time, being met by another lengthy round of applause, said Shalhoup.

“Because Bush just sat there with a blank expression, his momentum was killed, and that is why it became such a moment in history. It essentially propelled Reagan to the primary,” said Shalhoup.

While Breen was humiliated at the time, he was eventually able to laugh off the incident.

“I think he knew how significant that moment was. I think he realized that was going to be his claim to fame,” said Alan Greenwood, The Telegraph’s sports editor.

Greenwood admits that he sometimes watches the one-minute clip on YouTube highlighting Reagan’s famous reaction to Breen’s request to have his microphone turned off.

“I could always talk politics with Jon, even though I am a liberal Democrat and he was anything but,” said Greenwood.

Breen was eventually hired as executive editor of the newspaper, and stayed around seven years after the infamous debate. He also worked for Foster’s Daily Democrat, retiring in 2010.

According to his obituary, Breen worked with Congressmen James Cleveland and Louis Wyman, as well as with the Gerald Ford campaign.

Shalhoup said Breen was a conservative, adding he will always be remembered as the moderator of the historic debate.

The microphone Reagan used during the event is currently on display at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

khoughton@newstote.com


Deaths in the newsNH PeoplePresidentialGeneral NewsNashua

FOLLOW US
Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Facebook Follow our RSS feed
Union Leader app for Apple iPad or Android *
Click to download from Apple Apps StoreClick to download from Android Marketplace
* e-Edition subscription required