Poll Position: Do we need moderators in presidential debates?

Through three debates — two between the presidential candidates, one featuring their running mates — there’s been one constant: The moderators have been part of the story each time. PBS’ Jim Lehrer was faulted by some for being too hands-off; ABC’s Martha Raddatz for being too quick to interrupt; CNN’s Candy Crowley for playing fact-checker during one particularly heated exchange between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

Do we need moderators for presidential debates?

  • Absolutely (131 Votes)
  • Never (53 Votes)
  • Only in some of them (46 Votes)

Total Voters: 230

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(As an aside, as someone who’s moderated several debates myself, Crowley was wrong to intervene in that manner for two reasons, neither of them partisan: First, it wasn’t her place to offer an opinion; if she was trying to cut off the debate and move on to another topic, she should have simply said, “This one will have to go to the fact-checkers.” Second, fact-checking isn’t part of the moderator’s job largely because the moderator has too much else going on to be counted on to be a reliable fact-checker, from keeping track of speaking time to paying attention to which question comes next and even whose turn it is to give the first answer to that question. Crowley was, we can only assume, going off memory about what Obama said at a press briefing almost five weeks earlier, and with more than 60 million people watching. She was just as likely to make a mistake or misspeak as the candidates were.)

Rather than arguing about which moderator did the best job, or which style is best, my question to you today is: Do we even need moderators for these debates?

Throughout the primary season, Newt Gingrich famously challenged anyone and everyone to “Lincoln-Douglas style debates” without moderators. How much would you like to see Obama and Romney taking turns asking each other questions rather than relying on journalists and “undecided” voters bound to be accused of being partisan? (One thing I thought was clear from Tuesday night’s debate was that none of the questioners sounded all that “undecided” — their questions were aimed at one candidate or the other.)

Ah, you may ask, but who will cut off the candidates when they speak too long if there isn’t a moderator?

Well, the first three debates have proven human moderators aren’t very good at cutting off the candidates anyway. A CNN honcho even defended Crowley’s over-allowance of time to Obama — a repeat from Lehrer’s moderation of the first debate — on the ludicrous grounds that Obama speaks more slowly than Romney and might not have gotten in more actual words during his extra minutes of speaking time.

In any case, technology would do a much better job: Simply flash a red light when a candidate has 5 or 10 seconds left, and then cut off his microphone when the time has elapsed.

And what about the questions? Wouldn’t the candidates just make the debates meaningless or overly partisan by getting bogged down in gotcha-style questions?

Oh, you mean like George Stephanopoulos, apropos of nothing, asking GOP candidates about banning contraceptives last January?

It’s a problem that already exists with moderators. But it’s also one that, if the candidates themselves did it, would force voters to evaluate the candidates for asking such questions rather than letting the moderators take the blame. If Obama or Romney asks a gotcha question, he’d have to defend his choice as much as the other candidate had to defend his answer.

You might guess where I land on this issue, for at least one debate per cycle. But what say you? Do we need moderators in presidential debates?

It’s the return, after a brief hiatus, of the Poll Position question. Answer in the nearby poll and in the comments thread below.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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266 comments Add your comment

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
11:31 am

“In any case, technology would do a much better job: Simply flash a red light when a candidate has 5 or 10 seconds left, and then cut off his microphone when the time has elapsed.”

Cutting off the mike seems so – antiseptic – Kyle.

I suggest the use of the diving horn used on submarines in addition to cutting of the mike. First, it will scare the crap out of the candidates enough to stop speaking well before the time limit, and second:

It would be funny as all get out if they went over. :D

Arnold

October 19th, 2012
11:42 am

With a diving horn they would probably have to change their shorts.

Arnold

October 19th, 2012
11:43 am

I would like to see a real debate. No moderating at all.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
11:49 am

And I’d prefer a random picking of questioners rather than the moderator, especially given the fact that there will never be anything but a leftist moderator picked for these debates.

Screen all questions for appropriateness (no “Boxer or Briefs” stuff), assign them numbers and have a lottery.

This way the moderator can’t cherry-pick ones that are gotchas.

Pat Gunn

October 19th, 2012
11:49 am

I think we need much stronger moderation in debates, and ideally a panel of fact-checkers to identify and cover claims. The point of debates is to allow for direct engagement between each side and the views of the other; offering more pr-crafted hot air and demagoguery is highly undesirable; if someone happens to be good at speaking over their opponent or sprouts a bunch of lies, that shouldn’t win them the debate. The more structure and the more fact-checking that routinely happens in a debate, the more meaningful the discussion is.

southpaw

October 19th, 2012
11:49 am

Lincoln and Douglas at least answered each other’s questions. Nowadays, a candidate will try to change the question he was asked into a different question he wants to answer. Gingrich may want to think about a way to prevent that. A moderator is probably needed to keep candidates on topic. If candidates can stay on topic themselves, then we can do without the moderator.

MM

October 19th, 2012
11:50 am

Only a conservative would advocate LESS fact-checking during a debate. For too long we have seen unimpeded bald-faced lying as a easy way to dodge accountability during these so-called debates. “Let the voters” decide is a a joke when we have a nation of low-information voters. The sickening string of Republican primary debates allowed demeaning falsehoods that is good for entertainment but this practice should be abandoned for the real election.

Politicians should not be allowed to get away with such obvious lies. What’s bad for plutocracy is good for democracy.

MANGLER

October 19th, 2012
11:52 am

No moderator. Let them go at it like bickering teenagers going through a break up. You can learn a lot about a person by how the handle that kind of stress. And truth (through the eyes of the candidate) seems to have this annoying little way of coming out when they are distracted by actually arguing. Had they not been cut off as much Tuesday night, we may have actually seen some honest answers fall out of their mouths once they finished flash-boiling their canned responses out.

Beyond The Middle of the Road

October 19th, 2012
11:56 am

Yes, we need GOOD moderators. But IMHO we’ve only had one really good moderator this year and that would be Martha.

fair and balanced

October 19th, 2012
12:01 pm

MSNBC- Ed Schultz is broadcasting live from Freeport Illinois tonight. If you are at all concerned about outsourcing, Bain Capital and where American jobs are going you might want to watch. American workers forced to train their Chinese replacements before they are laid off. PS Romney is still an investor in Bain and there is no blind trust. it is a bold faced lie.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 19th, 2012
12:02 pm

new report shows that he and his wife made at least $15.3 million courtesy of Obama’s auto bailout. According to a Greg Palast, who followed the paper trail for The Nation, Romney and his wife made the money via an investment in a hedge fund that saw astronomical returns on its investments in an auto parts maker that would have gone under absent the president’s rescue operation.

http://www.thenation.com/article/170644/mitt-romneys-bailout-bonanza#

Hillbilly D

October 19th, 2012
12:04 pm

My idea of a moderator-less debate would be to do it this way. Flip a coin to see who asks the first question. The other candidate gets an allotted amount of time to answer. Both candidates are fitted with shock collars, hooked up to an electronic timer. Go over the time limit? Zap. After a couple of times, they’ll get the message.

As for fact checkers, that’s the responsibility of those watching the debate. Do you really need somebody to tell you what’s true and what isn’t? Me, I’ll make up my own mind.

The last few decades that we’ve been having these debates, these problems always come up. The moderators always seem to think the debate is about them. I guess it’s what comes when you turn newsreaders (that’s what the BBC used to call them) into celebrities.

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 19th, 2012
12:04 pm

You might guess where I land on this issue,

And if we change it, you Cons will whine about something with the new system. The cycle of whining will continue until only the Republican candidate is allowed to speak during the debate.

Increased circulation

October 19th, 2012
12:05 pm

No moderators are needed; we need to let Romney tell his lies and not call him on it. Joe Isuzu in 2016!

Finn McCool (The System isn't Broken; It's Fixed)

October 19th, 2012
12:06 pm

Go over the time limit? Zap. After a couple of times, they’ll get the message.

Or, go over the limit and we subtract 10 electoral college point from your November total.

MrLiberty

October 19th, 2012
12:08 pm

They knew the questions in advance, the topics in advance, had agreed upon everything except what the weather would be like outside. Who cares whether or not there are moderators.

What we need are actual divergent viewpoints being discussed. What we need are more candidates from more parties being represented. Even if a second viewpoint were being presented it would be nice. You know, something other than the status quo.

Here are some words you never heard mentioned during the debates (any of them) Federal Reserve, Guantanamo, Freedom, Liberty, the Constitution, Drones, marijuana/industrial hemp/the drug war. And the list could go on and on. Serious topics that neither candidate cares one bit about, but are central to why our country is so messed up.

I mean if two presidential candidates and their vice presidential running mates aren’t even willing to mention the Constitution, freedom, or liberty over the course of 3 debates, what is left of this country to work for?? Something to think about.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:08 pm

“Romney is still an investor in Bain and there is no blind trust. it is a bold faced lie.”

Yes, fair and balanced. Saying there is no blind trust IS a bold faced lie.

Thanks for clearing that up.

Oh, and Ed Schultz? Had a woman on his show last night who honestly believes that contraceptives will be banned if Romney is elected, despite no evidence of same.

The MSNBC lineup from start to finish is filled with hyper-partisan leftists who will say anything outrageous, no matter how false, to push their narrative.

Pat Gunn

October 19th, 2012
12:09 pm

@Hillbilly Not sure if you’re meant as a parody of countryfolk or a real person; I’m assuming the latter, at the risk of responding to a parody. Factchecking at its best involves minimal need for judgement on complex matters; if something is solidly right or wrong, it’s not up to you to make up your own mind; the speaker is right or wrong if there are facts to the matter, and people deserve to know, based on people doing the research, whether things are facts or not. This “make up your mind” thing is sheer stupidity that helps justify people ignoring when political figures get things wrong or lie, and it makes our politics worse.

carlosgvv

October 19th, 2012
12:09 pm

The man who is speaking should have his mike turned on. The other man should have his turned off.

Kyle Wingfield

October 19th, 2012
12:10 pm

MM @ 11:50: You ignore the fact that Crowley back-tracked on her debate comments afterward. So, were we better served by having her say one thing to 60 million people and something else to 5 million (or whatever CNN’s audience was post-debate)?

Look, I’m telling you from experience: As a moderator, your attention is too divided to be able to recall facts accurately enough and to grasp, in the moment, the particular nuance a candidate might be using. If you want live fact-checking, fine, I’m not going to oppose it (though I will question how you’re going to pull it off usefully in real time) — but it shouldn’t be the moderator.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:11 pm

Finn, do you read any INFORMATIVE websites?

Or do you stick to just the extensions of the DNC?

Kyle Wingfield

October 19th, 2012
12:11 pm

Finn @ 12:02: And yet, he opposed it. So are you really saying he had a conflict of interest? And did The Nation “follow the paper trail” of Obama’s investments — or those of his campaign donors?

Stephenson Billings

October 19th, 2012
12:11 pm

Pension Envy: Who Has More—Obama or Romney?

“As president, he will receive $191,300 annually for life — win or lose in next month’s election — and receives a travel allotment as well as mailing privileges. Should Obama lose, his presidential pension kicks in immediately after leaving office.

Given that the president enjoys a normal life span, the pension allotment would be worth upwards of $6 million.

The federal budget spends about $3 million annually for the four living ex-presidents. Obama also will get Secret Service protection.

In addition, Obama may be due a nice pension for the eight years he served in the Illinois Legislature as a state senator.

Illinois is infamous for its lavish pension plan for former lawmakers. A Freedom of Information Act request for Obama’s pension amount submitted Wednesday to the General Assembly Retirement System of Illinois was not immediately answered, nor was a call to the Obama campaign.”

http://www.cnbc.com/id/49450057

Del

October 19th, 2012
12:11 pm

I think there should be a moderator but only to present the questions and watch the clock. It was disappointing to see all of the appointed moderators coming from the left side of the political spectrum. Jim Leher lost control in the first debate mostly because Romney wouldn’t allow himself to be cut off and that coupled with Obama’s poor performance worked out very well for candidate Romney. The VP debate and Tuesdays second presidential debate clearly had the two liberal moderators tipping the scales for Biden and Obama. Both Ryan and Romney held their own, so the Romney momentum hasn’t been reversed. We’ll know if the second debate with Obama’s better performance has had any effect by tomorrow or Monday. Romney’s missed opportunity Tuesday regarding the Benghazi question may still be rectified Monday in the final debate. Since the topic will be foreign affairs Libya should once again come up and Romney, should be well prepared to take Obama apart on this unfortunate Obama administrations failure.

Lucius Dark

October 19th, 2012
12:11 pm

Every debate should be fact checked on the spot after EVERY exchange. Only a liar would fear that.

Double Standard

October 19th, 2012
12:12 pm

Our candidates do no not have enough “class” or civility for a Lincoln – Douglass style debate . The moral decline in the House and Senate still has not bottomed out yet. If the debaters came from this group you could make it work. This is the type of entertainment our Nation enjoys. At some point , voters will stop participating in the process and come to the conclusion it is every man for himself.

Kyle Wingfield

October 19th, 2012
12:13 pm

Hillbilly @ 12:04: Funny, I’ve joked about the shock collar thing myself.

“President Obama, there is a man in Wyoming holding the device to trigger your shock collar. Governor Romney, there is a women in Queens holding the trigger for yours. Neither will become live until your time has elapsed. Speak too long at your peril, gentlemen.”

Of course, that would make it even more like reality TV than it already is…

Pat Gunn

October 19th, 2012
12:13 pm

@Kyle: “The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts…No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.” — Obama in the Rose Garden on 12 September.

Stephenson Billings

October 19th, 2012
12:13 pm

UPDATE: PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has confirmed that Obama does participate in the Illinois pension fund, which was organized in the Cayman Islands and has interests in China.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:14 pm

“I mean if two presidential candidates and their vice presidential running mates aren’t even willing to mention the Constitution, freedom, or liberty over the course of 3 debates, what is left of this country to work for?? ”

Then maybe you should have actually listened to the first debate, Mr. Liberty.

Stephenson Billings

October 19th, 2012
12:15 pm

Obama: ‘We Got Back Every Dime’ of Bailout; CBO: Bailout Will Lose $24 Billion

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/obama-we-got-back-every-dime-bailout-cbo-bailout-will-lose-24-billion

Kyle Wingfield

October 19th, 2012
12:16 pm

Pat @ 12:13: Go ahead — give us the rest of the context. And then give us the quotes from all of Obama’s other statements in the weeks that followed.

Henne

October 19th, 2012
12:16 pm

Candy will vote for the incumbent. I am as sure of it as I am of the sun coming up in the East. It colors her performance.

jd

October 19th, 2012
12:18 pm

The moderators have been a sham, so I vote, no more moderators…not only was candy biased in her selection of questions and her time management and “fact checking”, let’s also remember obama was at martha’s wedding…actually, I am in favor of NO debates.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:19 pm

I don’t see how Obama doesn’t get hammered on Benghazi Monday night. Romney will have had a week to sharpen the message to clear up any wordsmithing issues, and Obama STILL doesn’t have an answer (because the only answer is “He lied!”

Pat Gunn

October 19th, 2012
12:19 pm

@Stephenson Just looked into that; both seem to be true; the loanlike components were repaid, but there were associated costs with the logistics of the program detailed in the PDF file from the CBO linked from that article. Interesting reading.

Stephenson Billings

October 19th, 2012
12:20 pm

Ahead of Election, Obama Stops Releasing ‘Stimulus’ Reports

“The $831,000,000,000 economic “stimulus” that President Obama spearheaded and signed into law requires his administration to release quarterly reports on its effects. But “the most transparent administration in the history of our country” is now four reports behind schedule and has so far not released any reports whatsoever in 2012. Its most recent quarterly report is for the quarter than ended on June 30, 2011.”

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/ahead-election-obama-stops-releasing-stimulus-reports_654968.html

Daniell Dilliers

October 19th, 2012
12:20 pm

I tend to agree with you that we no longer need moderators as in all three debates, the Dems candidate got more time and less opportunity to rebattle and they all represented a media channel favorable to the democrats. Equally, the current election commission needs to be thrown as it is an agent of the two parties. If we need a moderator, better be someone from the libertarian party since they are not included and they will ask the tough questions.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:21 pm

And if Obama calls out Romney for changing the wording of the debate point, Romney can just come back with, “Sorry, Mr. President, but last week I suffered from a Biden moment.”

George

October 19th, 2012
12:22 pm

The only reason Romney ran away with the first debate was because he told lies after lies and Obama never called him out! But how can anyone be surprised. Romney did say he was going to move to the center for the general elections if the won the GOP primaries with his right wing agenda. Even Republicans have to be worried about which Romney is going to occupy the WH if he won.

Stephenson Billings

October 19th, 2012
12:22 pm

CIA found militant links a day after Libya attack

“The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month’s deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press.”

http://apnews.myway.com/article/20121019/DA20G2701.html

Pat Gunn

October 19th, 2012
12:24 pm

@Kyle I am sure you can look it up yourself. It’s not a point worth making a big deal over (and in fact I think Obama may have been wrong to call it an “act of terror” before a more through investigation was done, but it’s hard to really know what information the president has access to at any given point on developing stories), but Romney was factually incorrect to claim that Obama didn’t characterise it as terrorism very early on. I find it more strange that that was used as a point of attack in the debates to begin with. Not all information is going to be available to a president on an issue immediately; there are (nonpolitical, and usually static across presidents) teams that work on getting information and providing an analysis for the president, and it takes time for them to do their job. It would be foolhardy for a president to jump to conclusions ahead of the facts.

I demand to see Cheesy Grits Birth Certificate- Long Form Please

October 19th, 2012
12:25 pm

Can you imagine if Obama had a black son and he had said something like this ?

Tagg Romney was asked how it felt when he heard “the president of the United States call your dad a liar.”

“Jump out of your seat and you want to rush down to the stage and take a swing at him,” Tagg answered

The outrage from the right would have been enormous.

Kyle, Fox News, Drudge. This would have been a huge story.

But because its the other way around its really not a big deal.

Very interesting isn’t it.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:28 pm

Pat Gunn, their intelligence chief knew within 24 hours that it was a coordinated attack (as in a terrorist attack). The mere fact that RPGs were used showed it was a terrorist attack. Common-sense says it was a terrorist attack from the get-go.

Obama used the words “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.” in the ABSTRACT, not the specific.

At some point you really need to stop defending the indefensible.

Stephenson Billings

October 19th, 2012
12:28 pm

Volt no jolt: LG Chem employees idle

Factory has yet to ship out a single battery

“Workers at LG Chem, a $300 million lithium-ion battery plant heavily funded by taxpayers, tell Target 8 that they have so little work to do that they spend hours playing cards and board games, reading magazines or watching movies.

They say it’s been going on for months.

[snip]

The company’s goal: 300 employees pumping out 15 million battery cells a year. Its biggest customer: The Chevrolet Volt.

The U.S. Department of Energy provided a $151 million grant, part of Obama’s Recovery Act.

The Korea-based company recently said it has 200 employees, and the company’s most recent federal filing shows 100 of them are funded through the Recovery Act grant.”

http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/target_8/Volt-no-jolt-LG-Chem-employees-idle

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:29 pm

“The only reason Romney ran away with the first debate was because he told lies after lies”

I’d say please detail them for us, George, but we’ve already debunked the DNC talking points this week.

I demand to see Cheesy Grits Birth Certificate- Long Form Please

October 19th, 2012
12:31 pm

It would be foolhardy for a president to jump to conclusions ahead of the facts.

But yet that’s exactly what they wanted him to do.

Great documentary on Discovery about Getting OBL.

Was mentioned that Obama was ridiculed ( even by his own party ) for saying he would move unilaterally and strike inside Pakistan if needed.

Well he did just that.

I have no doubt that if Bush or Bush 2.0 ( Romney ) had been president that OBL, the mastermind of 9/11, would still be alive today.

This is also part of the bigger Republican Karl Rovian strategy. The know dang well that Obama is stronger on Foreign Policy. That Romney and Ryan have absolutely no Foreign policy experience whatsoever.

So you attack their strength.

They did just that back in 2004 to John Kerry. They knew his Military record would hurt Bush by comparison.

So what do you do ? Swift boat em.

Hopefully enough Americans aren’t that stupid.

But in the red states they definitely are.

Tiberius - pulling the tail of the left AND right when needed

October 19th, 2012
12:32 pm

I guess Cheesy didn’t like the answer given in the earlier thread, so he repeated the nonsense up here.

Hint, Cheesy: Most normal people take exception to listening to blatant lies about their fathers.

Hillbilly D

October 19th, 2012
12:32 pm

Pat Gunn

Even those who are 180 degrees from me in opinions, would tell you I’m a real person, I believe. It’s not like I’m new here. I totally disagree with you on fact-checking in a debate. One only needs to read this or any other blog to learn that “facts” are largely a matter of opinion and which side of the fence you sit on. Therefore, I believe it’s up to each individual to decide for themselves who is telling a lie and who is telling the truth (or if neither of them is). You can look at budget numbers, the Libya situation and a whole host of other things for examples that one man’s fact is another man’s lie and vice versa. When it comes to deciding which is which, I’ll rely on myself rather than some talking head.

I demand to see Cheesy Grits Birth Certificate- Long Form Please

October 19th, 2012
12:32 pm

I’d say please detail them for us, George, but we’ve already debunked the DNC talking points this week.

Just skip to the part when his mouth was open.

The man has been running for President for 20 years.

He will say anything to anybody to get elected.