Journalists are taught never to become part of the story. Candy Crowley of CNN, moderator of tonight’s town-hall debate, has become part of the story, but in her case, I don’t think she has been given any choice.
In an interview with CNN this afternoon, Candy Crowley reiterated that, like past town-hall debate moderators, she intends to do more than just hold the microphone at tonight’s debate in Hempstead, N.Y. — an intention that has caused concern for both campaigns….
Crowley’s vision of her role at tonight’s debate is in keeping with past town hall debates, but it would defy the expectations agreed to by both campaigns in the co-signed memorandum of understanding, obtained and released yesterday by Time’s Mark Halperin. From section 7, part (c), sub-part (iv):
7. Additional Rules Apllicable to the October 16 Debate…
(c) With respect to all questions…
(iv) 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 2 minute response period.
There is hardly any gray area here. Crowley is expected to do nothing except to acknowledge questioners, enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments. Many people — especially journalists — would and have objected to that, but that’s the agreement.
That’s the agreement between the two campaigns. The sponsoring Commission on Presidential Debates did not agree to it. Crowley did not agree to it. If the two campaigns want somebody to handle the job the way they seem to want it handled, they should hire a game-show host, not a journalist.
“The commission and the moderator are not parties to” any agreement the campaigns may have, Frank Fahrenkopf, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a debate commission co-chair, told the Washington Post. “She agreed to abide by the rules of the commission, not the campaigns.”
Good for the commission, and good for Crowley.
We’ll be here again tonight, live-blogging the debatee. As usual, I’ll post a new thread around 8 p.m., then begin commentary as the debate starts at 9.
– Jay Bookman