Editorial: A silent showing
Moderators must do more to keep candidates in check
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
There is perhaps no less enviable a position than that of a presidential debate moderator. While it is certainly still a highly-regarded journalistic achievement, moderators are never praised for what they do right and are criticized for their mistakes and shortcomings.
During Wednesday night’s presidential debate, PBS’s Jim Lehrer never was able to grasp control of the debate, often allowing President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney to run well over their two-minute allotment for answers. Both candidates often quickly silenced Lehrer and continued speaking when he asked them to wrap up their points. And both candidates too frequently strayed from the original question to go off on their own diatribes.
Lehrer has since been roundly criticized for his role – or lack thereof – in the debate.
He has said in the past that moderators should “be like baseball umpires – get out of the way and let the candidates play,” according to the Associated Press. This stand-back approach sounds nice in theory, but the debate often delves into each candidate setting his own agenda for the debate, as it occasionally did on Wednesday night. Soon enough, the candidates’ responses start to sound like recycled rhetoric from their advertisements.
Each candidate should speak within his or her allotted time frame and stick to the question. Baseball umpires would not disregard the rules entirely in order to let the players play, so why would a debate moderator do the same?
Debates are where the American public has the opportunity to see the candidates in their true forms, without its vision clouded by attack ads and biased cable news coverage. It is a forum that needs to be officiated to ensure that it serves the public, not the interests of the individual candidates.
The moderator has to walk a tightrope between allowing the candidates to fully explain their positions and making sure they don’t get off topic or speak for too long. It is a difficult job, to say the least.
But the next moderator for the next presidential debate, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, needs to be more forceful with each candidate. The debate, scheduled for Oct. 16 at Hofstra University, will be in town meeting format, meaning audience members will ask the questions.
It is up to Crowley to make sure that the candidates do not dodge the questions and stick to a time limit, so that all topics can be covered. If not, important issues will be missed and Obama and Romney will be allowed to set the discourse once again.