The vanishing moderator: Jim Lehrer answers your questions about his part in the first debate

Oct.
11
“I was not there to question people. I was there to allow the candidates to question each other.” Yeah, we saw that, Jim. Will Martha Raddatz of ABC News take the same approach in tonight’s Vice Presidential debate?

Warning! This is a synthetic product. All the answers are Jim Lehrer’s words quoted verbatim. Click on the red A. for the source and to check up on my scissoring. I crafted the questions myself as a way of stitching different interviews together, especially his appearance on WNYC radio and his interview with Politico. My purpose is to show how Jim Lehrer handles the doubts I have heard about his performance since last Wednesday. I did not interview Lehrer myself.

Q. It seemed to us, and a lot of other people, that you lost control of the debate. Did you?

A. “It’s not my job to control the conversation. If the candidates gave me resistance, and I let them talk, to me that’s being an active moderator, not a passive moderator.”

Q. So letting them talk was what you were trying to do?

A. “I thought the format accomplished its purpose, which was to facilitate direct, extended exchanges between the candidates about issues of substance. Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so.”

Q. How did this format come about?

A. “The Commission came to me with this idea… Let’s see if we can try to have a real debate–not a moderated, simultaneous one-on-one interviews with the candidates, which is what they’ve been for all practical purposes–and set up a situation where the challenging is done not by the moderator, but is done by the candidates. And the candidates are either up to it or they’re not up to it. They’re either ready to go or not ready to go.”

Q. And if they’re reluctant to engage on the harder issues, which has been known to happen in politics, it would not be your job to prod or challenge them?

A. “I was not there to do the challenging. I was there to facilitate the challenging. If they didn’t want to do it, then I wasn’t going to do that work for them.”

Q. Okay, but does this extend even to keeping time? At several points in the debate, both candidates just rolled right over when you tried to enforce time limits. Was that part of the plan too?

A. “The first few times I said ‘let’s move on’ and they wanted to keep talking, the inclination of course is to stop them so I could cover all the subjects I wanted to cover. But I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Wait a minute, they’re talking to each other, leave ‘em alone.’ So I backed off.”

Q. And are you happy with how it turned out?

A. “Sitting here talking to you now, I have absolutely no second thoughts about it. I think it was a major development in the growth of presidential debates.”

Q. Major development: How so?

A. “This is the first time in the history of American political campaigning where an incumbent president of the United States stood eyeball to eyeball to a challenger and they talked at each other and they talked about things that mattered. That each was allowed to challenge the other and respond to that challenge.”

Q. If it’s candidate to candidate, eyeball to eyeball, then why have a moderator at all?

A. “I don’t know if I’d go that far. But I think we took a step in that direction on Wednesday night and I think that’s a very good thing. It’s not about a moderator following up and asking tough questions. You can do that in interviews.”

Q. Mitt’s Romney’s comments on the 47 percent of Americans who see themselves as victims and want the government to take care of them: do you think that should have been part of a debate on domestic policy? You could have asked about it, but you didn’t. Why?

A. “The reason I didn’t ask that is because I felt those were the questions the two candidates were to ask. I was not there to question people. I was there to allow the candidates to question each other. Certainly I could have brought up the 47 percent. All kinds of things I could have brought up.”

Q. Were you bothered at all by the way Governor Romney at times bullied and interrupted you?

A. “Everybody saw it. If somebody was turned off by the way Romney interrupted me, then they saw it… Judge it and react accordingly.”

Q. What about a situation where a candidate lies or distorts the record, and his opponent is reluctant to go after him for his own reasons? The American people in that situation won’t even get a shot at the truth. That’s a problem, isn’t it?

A. “No, I couldn’t disagree with you more. This is ninety minutes in a campaign that’s already been underway for a year… This was ninety minutes of the two candidates showing who they are and what they were willing– if Obama made a decision, he didn’t want to do that, alright, now we know that.”

Q. So you’re not moved by any of the criticism since the debate?

A. I’ve heard some of the criticism, but it’s not keeeping me awake at night. My conscience is clear.”

* * *
Five comments of my own about Jim Lehrer’s responses:

1. They have integrity, in the sense that they form a coherent vision to which he held: Raise some big topics and get out of the way. Leave the follow-ups and the fact-checking to the candidates themselves. Don’t challenge them; instead, invite them to challenge each other. Lehrer unquestionably believes in this approach. He thinks it’s the right way to go for all the debates.

Dylan Byers of Politico reports: “Though criticism remains, many are beginning to warm to the idea — advocated by Lehrer and by the Commission on Presidential Debates — that the PBS Newshour veteran was actually setting a new standard for debate moderation by making himself all but invisible.”

2. It was not clear to anyone before the debate that we should expect the vanishing moderator, whose responsibility is reduced to a minimum. If Lehrer’s account is correct, the Commission kind of sprung it on us without warning. Byers, for example, wrote this in an extensively reported preview of the debate:

But at a time when the electorate is as divided as ever, and when media scrutiny is more intense than ever, his is a task that carries unprecedented responsibility. Lehrer, colleagues and campaign strategists say, must ask tough, substantive questions and yet maintain total impartiality. He must shepherd the candidates through a range of topics while allowing them to drive the debate. And he must push Obama and Romney for genuine responses without injecting himself into the conversation.

There was talk of the new format, including the eleven minutes of open conversation in each segment, but “Lehrer will actually play a more active role than ever,” Byers reported. Bill Wheatley, a former NBC executive vice president who has produced presidential debates, had this exchange with Nieman Lab, published October 1.

LaFrance: But, theoretically, with the continuity of one moderator and the opportunity for longer back-and-forths, the moderators are better positioned to challenge candidates in real time, call them out on misleading spin.

Wheatley: You would think so. And of course there’s lots of spin. It’s up to the moderator to decide when to interrupt — when to say, “That doesn’t square with the facts,” or something like that if a candidate goes that far. They’re generally pretty careful in the presidential debate not to make errors of fact, but they can.

Neither had any clue that the Commission had agreed to the vanishing moderator and that “calling them out on misleading spin” had been written out of the job description.

Here’s the executive director of the debate commission, Janet Brown, explaining the new format to the Washington Post: “Each debate will cover six topics lasting 15 minutes, picked by the moderator and announced ahead of time. That places a big burden on the moderator to use the time wisely to craft a good exchange. You can lob up names of accomplished journalists ‘til the cows come home, but it’s very hard to find someone who can do that.”

See what I mean? Nothing about: “I was not there to question people. I was there to allow the candidates to question each other.”

3. None of this lessens in any way President Obama’s responsibility for a listless and passive performance. In fact, it makes Obama’s failure look even larger. If Lehrer’s account is correct, then Obama and his team knew he could not count on Jim Lehrer to correct anything or raise uncomfortable issues. “The challenging is done not by the moderator,” as Lehrer put it. Romney got that memo. Obama did not.

4. Let’s see if Martha Raddatz of ABC News takes the same approach in tonight’s VP debate. Based on this Politico profile, it does not seem in character for her, but who knows? If she does toss them a topic and get out of the way, it will validate Jim Lehrer’s explanation: the Commission’s plan all along was to install the vanishing moderator. (“I was not there to question people…”) If she does not take his approach, the story gets more interesting because then the opacity of the Debate Commission becomes even more outrageous.

5. For me it’s impossible to overlook the congruence or fit between these two things: 1.) Lehrer’s vanishing moderator who does not challenge or correct but merely “facilitates” the exchange between party leaders and 2.) the weakness of the PBS system itself, especially the Newshour, it’s flagship program best known for those non-confrontational interviews that allow the talking points on both sides to pour forth. The problem for PBS is not the imperative to remain impartial. It’s the assumption that impartiality is well served by the genteel style. There are more muscular forms of impartial journalism but you rarely see them in action on the Newshour, which is still dominated by Lehrer’s presence even though he is mostly retired.

I note, as well, that the imperative at PBS to avoid criticism (even when they know that the culture war attacks are coming) is congruent with Lehrer’s approach. He knew he would get a lot of criticism after the debate. But since he defined his primary job as “get out of the way,” the only valid criticism–by his lights–is that he did not get out of the way fast enough. As far as I know, no one has made that point about Jim Lehrer.

Post-script: October 12, the morning after the Vice Presidential debate.
Jim Lehrer has said that the new format put in place by the Commission on Presidential Debates included what I have called the Vanishing Moderator. As he put it, “I was not there to question people. I was there to allow the candidates to question each other.” He presented this approach as part of the Commission’s plan to advance the art of presidential debates, a decision he agreed with and embraced.

But now those explanations look kind of strange because it would appear that Martha Raddatz of ABC News undid the shift to the Vanishing Moderator in last night’s Vice Presidential debate. As Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times wrote:

Mr. Biden was not the only one in the room intent on rectifying his predecessor’s mistakes. Martha Raddatz of ABC News was the moderator, and she made a point of speaking forcefully, pushing the candidates to be specific and changing subjects abruptly. She seemed determined to be less passive and sleepy than Jim Lehrer of PBS was as moderator of the Obama-Romney debate.

Andrew Rosenthal of the Times opinion staff noted:

Ms. Raddatz showed a consistent willingness to call the candidates on their “malarkey,” as the Vice President put it. When Mr. Ryan said he could cut taxes without reducing the deficit by eliminating loopholes, but didn’t actually mention which loopholes, she drew attention to his evasiveness: “No specifics, again.”

And she refused to let Mr. Ryan ignore her question about his ticket’s plan to increase the defense budget. By my count, she returned to that point six times, culminating with the rather sharp: “I want to know how you do the math and have this increase in defense spending?”

With 15 minutes left, after dragging the candidates through taxes, Medicare, Social Security, the budget deficit, terrorism and Afghanistan, she raised a topic that didn’t come up at all last week: How did each of the candidates’ personal beliefs (they are both Catholic) affect their views on abortion.

This is the very opposite of the policy that Lehrer said the Commission had decided on, with his enthusiastic support. In the Vanishing Moderator scheme, interventions like refusing to let Paul Ryan ignore questions about the defense budget would be left up to the candidates. It would be Biden’s job. That Raddatz saw it as her job represented a shift in policy from the week before. Which leaves us with these questions: Did Martha Raddatz go off the reservation and simply ignore the Commission’s new Vanishing Moderator format? Was it never the Commission’s intention to make the Vanishing Moderator part of its debate scheme? (Lehrer said it was.) Did the Commission change its mind without telling anyone? Was Lehrer’s story (scroll up for the quotes) incorrect in some way? We don’t know.

UPDATE, Three months after the election: Lehrer, Raddatz disagree on debate role.

36 Comments

  1. abigail beecher says:

    The time has long since passed for “journalists” to moderate these debates. According to the latest poll, 60 percent of the public don’t trust the press. I’m guessing by the time the election is over, it will rise to 80 percent.

    There is a controversy over Radditz’s connection to Obama, which ABC tried to hide—you know the old press rule: Transparancy For Thee But Not For Me. Digging into it,it doesn’t seem like a big deal, except for the coverup and when you dig down into the Dem operative/journalist incest and revolving door.

    • abigail beecher says:

      If these debates continue, I think they

      ought to be moderated by people who know what the hell they are talking about; think tanks, economists, foreign policy experts etc. or some non-partisan entity like League of Women Voters, etc.

      Get “journalists” out of the debate business. They have given up their credibility in order to be players—and recently referees as well.

      You can shriek about “culture war” all you like, but the press brought this on themselves.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Legitimate journalism died of liberal bias long ago. So of course it should have no role in the debates.

      We get it. We got it 10,000 rounds ago. It’s a drilling in the wall that’s on its 43rd year (Agnew, 1969, a well that is still performing.) You are welcome to keep drilling. Trust me: I know what you think of the liberal media.

      • abigail beecher says:

        Thanks for missing my point and thereby proving my point.

        Living in your insular Pauline Kael World, I would expect nothing less than a snarky putdown—and to your credit, you didn’t disappoint.

        Thanks Jay!

  2. [...] on the moderator’s role under the new format. Jay Rosen, the NYU Journalism professor, made this point earlier today: “If [Raddatz] does toss them a topic and get out of the way, it will validate [...]

  3. Abigail Beecher is right: a journalist should not be moderating such debates — but not for her Culture War reasons.

    Assuming Jim Lehrer is correct (and is not gainsaid by Martha Raddatz’ approach this evening) and the Vanishing Moderator was the deliberate, premeditated decision of the Debate Commission, he should have rejected the commission’s invitation as demeaning to his profession.

    What is a journalist supposed to do when confronted with a newsmaking event, such as a Presidential debate? He is supposed to analyze the material that politicians provide, isolate those aspects that are newsworthy (important, controversial, interesting, innovative, for example), and intervene in their presentation to underscore their prominence.

    Thus, the intervention of journalist-as-moderator could consist of asking pointed follow-up questions, or truncating discussions that failed to be illuminating, or repeating ideas that were especially germane.

    The diminishment of the moderator by eliminating the “journalist” part and reducing the role to that of a mere timekeeper is a decision that the Debate Commission is quite entitled to make. But why, then, did it invite a journalist to fulfill a non-journalistic function?

    Obviously they needed to have a timekeeper who was comfortable in front of the camera, which is why Beecher’s suggestion of “think tanks, economists, foreign policy experts etc. or some non-partisan entity like League of Women Voters” is off the mark.

    So what type of person can perform unflappably in front of a camera without giving the audience the false expectation that they are about to see any act of journalism perpetrated during the conduct of the debate? Off the top of my head, how about these candidates:

    Brian Lamb
    Vin Sculley
    Judge Judy
    James Lipton
    Oprah Winfrey

    • Paul Simon says:

      Or merely anyone capable of reading a pre-scripted question and monitoring a stopwatch — the very essence of The Vanishing Moderator!

    • abigail beecher says:

      You seek to diminish me with your “culture war” slam, but unless the term has a new! improved! postmodern! meaning, what we have seen with the last two debates is culture war deluxe.

      Leftwingers hated the PBS guy because his style showed Obama to be less than desired; they loved Martha because she let Biden smirk, interrupt and generally pump up the leftwing nutter base.

      As I see it, the problem with “journalists” at these debates is that they are TV journalists who have a big heaping helping of the LOOK AT ME gene. Martha wanted to ask her inane questions about “should we condemn soldiers who urinate on corpses” as if somehow there would be more than one answer to it and somehow one of the most pressing issues before the American public.

      Which means that if this question is legit—and the inane WAR ON LADY PARTS question—then Oprah would do just dandy—as would any of the “journalists” like Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Letterman, Jay Leno, Joy Behar, etc.

      My point AGAIN: These are not serious people with serious public policy chops. I know you are journalists and you want to stand up for and promote your kind, but continuing to press that “journalists”, who have little deep understanding of issues, host these debates means you prefer political theatre over honest discussion of serious issues.

      Which, now that I think about it, is just about right; choosing the narrative-based community over the fact-based community is what “journalists” do every day.

      • abigail beecher says:

        Forgot two important points:

        1. If the press is postmodern, is it too big to tell?

        2. One positive of these debates is that they have brought left and right together in agreeing that “journalists” are just Democrat operatives.

        At last, the bipartisanship Obama promised in ’08 is here today!

  4. John C Abell says:

    I don’t think the moderator should be part of the story. But the moderator isn’t a potted plant, either. On panels the moderator guides and disciplines but gives the panelists as much free range as serves the audience.

    In a presidential (or VP) debate the audience is served by seeing as unvarnished a performance as possible. If a participant wants to seem like a blowhard, who is the moderator to object? If a participant wants to lie, and the opponent doesn’t object, why hold the moderator to a higher standard than a criminal court judge, who doesn’t normally object on behalf of either advocate.

    I’ve come around on this pretty rapidly. Before the Romney/Obama debate I assumed that the moderator would be one of two actors to ensure the third didn’t get away with anything. That didn’t happen, and I was left to conclude that the weakest link wasn’t Lehrer, but Obama.

    Call it a joint press conference, and have a panel of inquisitors, if press pushback is what you want.

    As it stand, these “debates” are cage fights, and should be.

  5. David Wynn says:

    There are a few reasons why I think a vanishing moderator is a bad thing for the voters:

    — 1 —
    There is probably no greater extension of “he said, she said” than allowing two people free, unchallenged reign to talk over each other without oversight. Surely we need someone to actively fill the role of curator and boundary maker on the conversation, otherwise the candidates are free to say anything at all, and I as a viewer don’t have the time or means to check them on things that might be dubious or intentionally vague.

    — 2 —
    The idea that the moderator should go away to me implies that everyone on stage has the same goals and incentives, and the moderator’s presence is like having one chef too many in the kitchen. I would argue it’s VERY clear that the incentives of the debaters and of those watching (who the moderator represents) are very different. Vanishing the role vanishes that perspective.

    — 3 —
    The whole argument strikes me as paralleling the deregulation mantra. Surely the result of a free market approach to dialogue must be the best one, right? Let’s cast off as many rules as we can in pursuit of such an ideal.

    I believe that markets need boundaries to function most effectively, and so similarly does discourse.

    In short, I’ll take Raddatz’s approach over Lehrer’s any day of the week.

  6. Tom says:

    On Raddatz, did I miss something? Different moderators can’t have different styles and approaches?

    All Lehrer said was the commission suggested this idea to him. Why have you taken this to mean that it was the new standard for all debates?

    Please explain.

    Also, if you have to come up with a stupid label for every subtle shift in the media sphere, can you at least spare us its capitalization?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      What’s with the unprovoked hostility in your comment, Tom? Would you care to explain?

      Lehrer could have said, “The Commission gave me a free hand to moderate the debate the way I wanted and my decision was that I wasn’t there to question the candidates, I was there to facilitate them questioning each other.” He could have, but he didn’t.

      Instead, he presented its as a feature of the new format, as well as the Commission’s decision to move in this direction and finally have “real debates,” as he put it.

      Why does that matter? Because the Commission didn’t tell anyone about it, or explain what it was doing by going to the Vanishing Moderator. We don’t even know if the Romney and Obama camps were aware, for example, that Lehrer would not be challenging any misstatements of fact or intervening to make sure a question was answered.

      When a great deal of criticism rained down on Lehrer after the debate, he could have said: “it was my call, and I decided to use a light hand.” But he didn’t. He said this was the policy of the Commission. Are we to believe that the Commission wanted at least one real debate, and so it asked Lehrer to employ the Vanishing Moderator, but then it told Martha Raddatz, “you can go back to the simultaneous interview format?” Or was the Vanishing Moderator not a Commission idea at all, but Jim Lehrer’s perogative?

      The Denver debate is turning out to be the most consequential event of the campaign, so these seemingly small questions do matter.

      Why is “the vanishing moderator” a stupid label? In three words it captures something that happened: instead of writing “JIm Lehrer’s method of tossing out topic areas and letting the candidates question each other with minimal intervention” (18 words) I can use three and anyone reading this post knows what I mean.

      That seems so basic to writing and criticism that I am surprised to be explaining it. Yes, I could render it without capitals but why do capital letters vex you so?

      • Tom says:

        I truly wasn’t trying to come off as hostile, but looking at it now I clearly did. Apologies.
        “Vanishing moderator,” and many of the other phrases you use, like “view from nowhere,” are meaningless Twitterisms that you seem intent on coining by putting in caps. They are abstract terms so imprecise that they could be taken to mean any number of things. Hence, my vexation.
        My problem with your criticism is that you are drawing conclusions without knowing the facts, not that I do. You pieced together an interview with Lehrer and from that singular piece of third-hand information deduced that this important shift — I’d agree that it is important, if it really took place — was not only underway but also a new “policy?”
        You keep repeating that Lehrer said this was a commission policy. Where? Show me.
        What he actually said was, ” “The Commission came to me with this idea… Let’s see if we can try to have a real debate–not a moderated, simultaneous one-on-one interviews with the candidates, which is what they’ve been for all practical purposes–and set up a situation where the challenging is done not by the moderator, but is done by the candidates.”
        “A real debate,” not “establish a new format which all debates will follow.”
        “Set up a situation,” singular.
        What’s more, you write, ” It was not clear to anyone before the debate that we should expect the vanishing moderator, whose responsibility is reduced to a minimum. If Lehrer’s account is correct, the Commission kind of sprung it on us without warning.”
        Here’s what the commission actually said, “The format for the first and fourth presidential debates calls for six 15-minute segments on topics selected and announced in advance by the moderators. After the moderator asks a question, the candidates each have two minutes to answer. After their answers, the moderator’s job is to facilitate a conversation on the topic for the balance of the 15 minutes before moving to the next topic. The Commission on Presidential Debates’ goal in selecting this format was to have a serious discussion of the major domestic and foreign policy issues with minimal interference by the moderator or timing signals. Jim Lehrer implemented the format exactly as it was designed by the CPD and announced in July.” http://tiny.cc/ley2lw July!

        • Tom says:

          Also, see the WashingtonPost Q&A with Lehrer in which it seems pretty clear that it wasn’t a new policy: http://tinyurl.com/8mtuyyq
          Q: Do you think we should use this new format again?

          A: Absolutely. It probably needs some tweaking. Tweaking not only by the people who put the debates on, but by the candidates as well.

          Remember, whatever people are declaring about this debate, who won and who lost, they’re not talking about it the way they talked in the past. They’re not talking about gaffes or some little incident of some kind. They’re talking about what was said. Which is what it ought to be.

          Q: Do you have any advice for the next moderator?

          A: No! I don’t have any specific advice. The importance of these debates has been demonstrated. The [forthcoming] debates are going to be even more important because this one drew so much attention.

          • Tom says:

            By the way, saying “Lehrer’s approach” on second reference after it explaining it well — which you do in that sentence — is much more effective. It also saves a word. Try for the concrete. I’m sure you have a copy of Strunk & White.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            I’ll try to do better. What’s your opinion on whether prepositions should end sentences? And do you have a help line I can call when I get into trouble? Much obliged.

          • Tom says:

            How witty.

          • Jason says:

            Tom: It seems you’ve forgotten that writing well doesn’t matter anymore. Haven’t you read a Jay Rosen post before?

  7. Ellis Weiner says:

    What is the purpose of these debates? To present the public with a good-faith confrontation of the two candidates’ contrasting programs and intentions? In one’s dreams.

    The debates are critiqued–by pundits and laypeople alike–as performances. “Obama didn’t do well.” “Biden kicked Ryan’s ass.” Etc. The essence of things, as in soap operas, lies in one character’s *response to* another. (Absent the responses, they’d just be stump speeches.)

    Which is not, though, to argue for a vanishing moderator. When you have a serial liar like Romney, the entire debate can get swamped with falsehoods and their continual refutation. The only thing the public would glean from that is a debased exchange on the order of a schoolyard spat.

    A good moderator would be familiar with the most common lies from both sides, and be ready to blow the whistle on them. Absent that, the opponent should be quick to say (as Biden did, to his credit), “That’s not true, and here’s why.”

    Under normal circumstances, you could make a case for a vanishing moderator. With a shameless liar like Romney, you need one with a whip.

    • abigail beecher says:

      Yes, thank the gods we never have to worry about Obama telling lies—it just never happens.

  8. This all sounds to me like media folks demonstrating their savvy, something that Jay Rosen has criticized the Washington Media for doing. None of it is coming from my viewpoint or answers my most pressing question: What can I expect if either of these two is elected?

    Perhaps the most ironic moment was at the end when Raddatz asked if either were embarrassed by the negative tone of the campaign and both used the moment to blast the other side. I am surprised the none of the savvy media commented on this, or even got it in their hurry to get off some killing tweet.

    My other comment comes from the reading a number of responses from all sides. It is clear that we have given up on the idea that you can your own opinion, but not your own facts. If that were true, then many tweeters were watching a different debate than I did.

  9. Justin says:

    The problems with Lehrer’s argument and performance are that they are ensconced in privilege. he selected the topics. None involving women, none involving minorities. He then refused to even give tacit participation in guiding the discourse of his own selected topics. We, the American people, tuned in at record levels, something Lehrer should have anticipated. What we saw was madness, a candidate lying, and a moderator refusing to even acknowledged in basic ways these lies.

    I refer to the WSJ op/ed this week that likened the President’s team calling Mitt Romney a liar to Hitler and Stalin in the 1930s. To expect the President of the United States to call his opponent a liar was unrealistic.

    Now, however, the President is forced to, and the discourse will never be the same.

  10. TheraP says:

    Thank you for initiating this discussion, Jay. And “discussion” relates to the points I hope to make. My own profession is psychotherapy. So forgive me if I partly veer off, perhaps, from your perspective on this.

    Seems to me that before one can discuss a “debate moderator’s role” there needs to be clarity on the meaning of debate. Is it to foster “discussion” or is it “theater” or “sport” or “battle”? Apparently the commission described the moderator’s role (in the first debate) as facilitating discussion, but provided only a setting and a “moderator”. With no groundrules, other than time periods.

    So what exactly was the first “debate” supposed to be? Because that bears on the role of a “moderator” it seems to me.

    If the “spectacle” of political opponents debating each other has now morphed into a reality show, where folks tune in to see theatrics, that is something very different from voters tuning in to learn something, to make judgments about someone’s fitness to govern. Otherwise are we now hiring actors? Entertainers? Gladiators? Verbal boxers or wrestlers?

    Boxers and wrestlers have a referee. There are limits to what can happen in the ring. And the referee is there to intervene, as in any sport. Actors and entertainers are hired under contract. Only gladiators are sent into the ring without intervention. Without structure.

    Courts have structure. A debate is perhaps more like what goes on in a courtroom. Such a debate is more like what goes on in Congress. In both cases someone has a gavel. And when the gavel sounds, silence ensues. There is a structure to both situations. The objective is to allow different perspectives to be presented in the hope that justice may be done or just laws may be passed.

    I had a problem with Jim Lehrer’s abdication of authority in that first debate. To me it was like a judge failing to keep order in his court. Or like a referee failing to be on the job.

    We need clarity about the objectives. And we need structure. As we have in any official social interaction. Otherwise we may be served gladiators. Or a lone gladiator. Against a puzzled attempt to maintain a reasoned discussion.

    As a therapist, I’d force a rethink here!

  11. abigail beecher says:

    Pauline Kael Bubble World Quote Of The Day from Jay Rosen tweets:

    “Romney’s tax plan is mathmatically impossible…I think everyone know this…”

    Just as “everyone” I know didn’t vote for Nixon, and of course, “everyone” knows Jay Rosen has a doctorate in mathmatics so he is well qualified to pontificate and pass judgment on what is mathmatically possible and what isn’t.

    Hey, I thought math wasn’t required for J-School. lol

  12. Abadman says:

    Was Radditz moderating or controlling the debate when she let Biden interrupt Ryan 80 plus times?
    Forget about bias her job was to let them exchange views and put for their positions. Letting Biden come across as the psycho jerk he did demonstrates her failure. It was not Ryan’s job to insure he received the courtesy to present his ideas from Biden, it was hers.
    Then she she interrupted Ryan 50% more than Biden so it not like she was unable to step in and try to exert control, at least with Ryan.

    Lehrer may have let the Romney and Obama step on him, but at least he kept them from stepping on each other.

    And maybe to preempt the whole “fact” BS, Radditz let Biden get away with whoppers on Benghazi, the Iraq SOFA failure, the defense budget cuts, Afghanistan, and contraception/religious exemptions to name the biggest ones. So lets just skip the whole, she was just trying to get to the truth, malarkey.

  13. I like his position on moderation and how it should be handled, I think that’s the way it should be.

  14. Abadman says:

    Now we have had Candy Crowley as well. Once again more interruptions of the republican by the moderator by a large margin with corresponding less speaking time. Then there was the faulty fact check Benghazi. Lehrer and his format is looking better all the time.

    If moderators are supposed to be Refs for the debates we are seeing NFL replacement ref performances from “top tier” journalists.

    The “I know best” conceit of Crowley pre-debate is especially galling given her

    I doubt the commission’s intent for the moderators was to have the moderator drag the president’s carcass across the debate finishline either but that is what they got in this last debate.

  15. Tom McCool says:

    Faulty fact check? Right, because a President who has spent his time in office ordering drone strikes throughout the world killing terrorists plus civilians, ordering hits on American citizens and their child is to be castigated because he didn’t call an attack in Benghazi a terrorist incident fast enough?
    Talk about missing the point!

  16. abigail beecher says:

    Let’s hope Schieffer pulls a Crowley/Radditz proving to the American public that Obama is too weak to defend himself and that the establishment press is nothing but “Democrat operatives with bylines”.

    Let’s get real—the sooner the Old Media dies the sooner the New Media can emerge which will, with luck, represent the interests of the people rather than the powerful, which will be a warrior for facts rather than inane narratives and memes(dog on a roof, Big Bird, binders, four dead Americans, including an Ambassador is no big deal,etc.).

    All the establishment press has is a binder-full of “journalists” like Al Sharpton, Joy Behar, David Letterman, Pimp With A Limp and Jon Stewart. These are the “journalists” who enjoy Obama’s company and comments.

    The establishment press is in serious need of a reset.

  17. Brad says:

    Jay Rosen is clueless. Can someone send him to a stats class so he can even understand the data driven nature of today’s polling and political action?

  18. Abadman says:

    Tom McCool,
    No, because security requests were denied, aide was not supplied, and our embassy staff in Libya was left hanging, on 9/11 of all days. The president’s changing stories show incompetence at best a lying cover up at worse. The president’s is ambigious response, the day after the attack is emblematic of his administrations bumbling of the situation both before and after the attack.

    It is a legitimate point to raise by Romney and as moderator Crowley had no business pulling Obama out a manure pile of his own making. Especially when she does not have her facts right.

    Thanks for agreeing she was wrong though, and don’ t strain anything trying to move the goalposts.

  19. hair weave says:

    There are a many reasons for vanishing moderator to be a bad thing for the voters.

  20. Habadashery says:

    In the last UK elections we saw a leader’s debate live for the first time. I must say, it was simply a spectacle. The ‘performance’ during the debate process seems irrelevant, given that the media draw the conclusions afterwords, and communicate it to the public. A candidate only does as well as the immediate press choose to convey. A sad fact in my opinion.