Debating the Moderator

In the days leading up to tonight’s debate, moderator Candy Crowley has provoked a debate of her own about her role. Over at Time, Mark Halperin writes:

In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of this Tuesday’s town hall has publicly described her role, TIME has learned.

While an early-October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns suggests that CNN’s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested that she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?’”

In the view of the two campaigns and the commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the campaigns agreed to, which delineates a more limited role for the debate moderator.

Not surprisingly, many reporters have urged Crowley to seize a more expansive role tonight. If she doesn’t force the candidates off their talking points, the reporters argue, who will?

Well, here’s a revolutionary approach: The candidates could force each other off their talking points by having an actual debate — the kind that Jim Lehrer so gracefully moderated two weeks ago when he gave Governor Romney and President Obama the space and freedom needed to respond to arguments. Let’s hope Crowley follows Lehrer’s example tonight.

  1. Crow

    Having now seen the debate and her performance–especially her assist to Obama on Libya–I think we can say that Lehrer has been the best moderator so far.

    Jonathan, I completely agree with your point that it is the candidates job to rebut and refute their opponents in this forum, not the moderators.

    I think the arrogant assumption (myth) that reporters are the sole arbiters of truth (of course, percieving that truth with the center-left worldview that biases most reporters to begin with) contributes strongly to the overblown role some of them seem to believe a moderator should be playing. This crusader mindset is how they see themselves, and their relationship to their colleagues. How will I be able to face them at the cocktail party if I don’t challenge this? Have I betrayed my role as a reporter?

    Amor-propre at its finest…

    Someone needs to take them aside and remind them: this isn’t a high school policy or LD debate–you aren’t both time keeper and judge. You fulfill the former, the American people are the latter.

    Or maybe, just simply, this isn’t about you!

  2. Crow

    Via the Washington Examiner:

    But Crowley admitted that she also agreed with Romney during the debate, when he said that the Obama administration spent two weeks telling Americans the attacks were about “a tape and this riot outside the Benghazi consulate, which there wasn’t.”

    “He was right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word,” Crowley concluded.

    Well, gee, Candy, that’s how you treat the guy whose argument you are symapathetic to? You interrupt the proceedings to parse his sentence and insodoing hand the point to the other team (while misleading the viewers as to the facts) on diction alone?

  3. John Hanson

    I have a simple question, Why are the moderator’s always liberal democrats? (Even if officially we don’t know how they vote).   Why has there almost never been a conservative journalist chosen to moderate.  At least one of the three presidential debates should have been moderated by someone known to have conservative views.  For example, Obama picks one moderator, Romney picks one, and we let the sponsoring organization pick the third.  Then rules should encourage actual debates between candidates, not talking points.

  4. Troy Senik, Ed.

    Couldn’t agree more, Jonathan. As I wrote in my column last week, Lehrer’s debate showed that something akin to what Newt Gingrich suggested in the primaries could work.

  5. Eeyore

    I think it would be fun if Romney said in his opening remarks something like “Before we get started, Candy, I want you to know that I did not have a death wish in naming Paul Ryan, who has shown himself to be an able running mate.”

  6. Mel Foil

    I worry that Candy will see her role as not letting tonight’s “New Romney” wander away from Democrat-PAC-ad Romney’s identity (i.e. the racist homophobic union-busting misogynist anti-education plutocrat Romney that hates all poor people, all old people, and all animals, especially dogs.)

  7. Western Chauvinist

    I’ve listened to Candy Crowley with Hugh Hewitt a few times. I think conservatives are making a mistake panning her before the debate. If she acts out, then fair enough. But, she seems very fair and self-disciplined on Hugh’s show.

    Also, through a few degrees of separation, someone who knows her says she’s fiscally conservative although socially liberal. Sounds just like the Massachusetts liberals I once worked with who consistently voted for Republican governors like — Mitt Romney!

  8. Jonathan Horn
    C
    Western Chauvinist: I’ve listened to Candy Crowley with Hugh Hewitt a few times. I think conservatives are making a mistake panning her before the debate. If she acts out, then fair enough. But, she seems very fair and self-disciplined on Hugh’s show.

    Also, through a few degrees of separation, someone who knows her says she’s fiscally conservative although socially liberal. Sounds just like the Massachusetts liberals I once worked with who consistently voted for Republican governors like — Mitt Romney! · 4 minutes ago

    Just to be clear, I am not panning her. If she follows Lehrer’s example, I will have no complaints.

  9. Shane McGuire

    Candy, this debate is from undecided voters, so I presume I won’t be getting any questions from you.

  10. Troy Senik, Ed.
    Western Chauvinist: I’ve listened to Candy Crowley with Hugh Hewitt a few times. I think conservatives are making a mistake panning her before the debate. If she acts out, then fair enough. But, she seems very fair and self-disciplined on Hugh’s show.

    I agree. The video of her that’s been passed around over the last few days — referring to the Romney-Ryan ticket as “some sort of ticket death wish” — isn’t a legitimate criticism. She was referring to what she was hearing from some GOP insiders, not offering her own opinion.

  11. Nick Stuart
    Western Chauvinist:  But, she seems very fair and self-disciplined on Hugh’s show.

    Just like Bart Stupak and the rest of his merry band seemed pro-life until crunch time when they sold out and caved in.

    My view, the odds of her playing it straight down the middle are so infinitesimally small as to be beyond the ability of mathematics to calculate.

    As to the “uncommitted” questioners, today Michelle Malkin gave a good retrospective of how that worked out in 2008:

    http://michellemalkin.com/2012/10/15/a-reminder-about-the-last-plant-infested-cnn-run-town-hall-debate/

    On 11/7, whatever happens, we have to go to work on the GOP to cure it of being the “stupid party” and quit playing Linus to the Leftist’s Lucy.

  12. Cutlass

    I’ve also heard that Candy Crowley isn’t that bad, so I don’t want to prejudge her performance.

    However, despite the concern of both campaigns I’ve seen it reported that once the debate starts she’s free to do whatever she likes. So, both campaigns engage in serious  negotiations about the debate format, yet the moderator – who has presumably agreed to abide by the format – can just do whatever he or she wants without consequence?

    I’d say they should include provision to financially penalize a moderator for blatantly ignoring the rules, but I have no idea how such a policy could be enforced. Obviously, after the debate, only the perceived loser would be interested in enforcing a penalty and oversight by some BS “independent” committee would be useless. 

    Oh well. As usual, Republican candidates just have to rise a little bit higher to any occasion.

  13. Vance Richards

    What happened to TV being for the “Beautiful People”?

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