Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Role of the Moderator in today's Debate

CNN's Candy Crowley
Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of today's town hall has publicly described her role.

While an early October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns and the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debates suggests 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 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 both campaigns and the commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the two campaigns agreed to, which delineates a more limited role for the moderator of the town-hall debate. The questioning of the two candidates is supposed to be driven by the audience members themselves — likely voters selected by the Gallup Organization. Crowley’s assignment differs from those of the three other debate moderators, who in the more standard format are supposed to lead the questioning and follow up when appropriate.

The town-hall debate is planned for Today at 9 p.m. (eastern time).

According to the town-hall format language in the agreement, after each audience question and both two-minute responses from the candidates, Obama and Romney are expected to have an additional discussion facilitated by Crowley. Yet her participation is meant to be otherwise limited. As stated in the document: “In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic … The moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the two-minute response period.” But if the Obama and Romney campaigns agreed to such terms, there is no evidence that Crowley did — or was ever asked to do so.

My concern is that these moderators can influence the debate outcome by framing questions in a way that favors one candidate or the other. If Candy Crowley is allow a wide latitude in asking follow up questions she would be in a perfect position to exert such influence.

Having watched Candy for years on CNN, long before she got her own program on that network (State of the Union with Candy Crowley), I can tell you she definitely and clearly leans left -so far that she is at times horizontal... That tendency could, and in my opinion, will, give the Obama side a clear advantage. I may be wrong. She may turn out to be fair and neutral, I certainly hope so. But, the way things have been going in this Presidential Campaign, I fully expect her performance to be a subject of discussion, a point of complaint by the Romney side -and an unfortunate distraction to a very important debate.

Live Long and Prosper...

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