Sunday, October 17, 2004

Debate Wrap-up: Critiquing the Moderators

The debates are finally over and I think the quality of the discussions was high. We got a chance to see the two candidates field a range of questions in an unscripted format and a non-partisan setting. Not only did Kerry “win” the first, and perhaps most crucial debate on foreign policy, but he “won” the other two as well (according to virtually every poll), even if the victories were not as decisive. The VP contest was pretty evenly matched, but was destined to be of little consequence regardless. As we prepare for these final two weeks of the campaign, I want to turn attention to the moderators in the debates instead of the debaters.

1. Jim Lehrer: A+

Mr. Lehrer did an outstanding job and set the bar extremely high for the subsequent debates. His questions covered a wide range of issues and he used the discretionary 30 second follow-ups in just the right places. In 2008 he should be in charge of all the debates.

2. Gwen Eiffel: F

Ms. Eiffel was horrible and should she barred from ever moderating a major debate again. Not only was she the only one to make a significant mistake (when she gave Edwards extra time by accident and then cut him off), but too many of her questions weren't particularly relevant to the election. The whole trial lawyer segment, where she asked Edwards if he felt personally attacked, was silly and asking about black women with AIDs in America was too blunt of a way to remind to everyone that she is a black woman who cares about black women. With so many issues affecting blacks throughout this country- high incarceration rates, joblessness, low education, and poverty- she could’ve asked much broader questions that would’ve revealed much more about the candidate’s positions.

3. Charles Gibson: A

Mr. Gibson was solid. Although the audience participants were center-stage in this debate, he chose a wide range of questions that hit on both domestic and foreign affairs and he used his discretion judiciously as well. He was also responded well when Bush cut him off.

4. Bob Schieffer: C

Mr. Schieffer did a rather poor job. First, his choice of questions was, dare I say, questionable? Flu shots? The role of strong women in the candidates’ lives? Please. What about gas prices and energy policy, Abu Ghraib, the 9/11 Commission? Come on Bob, this was the LAST debate and you were supposed to touch on the issues that hadn’t made it into the first two debates. The worst moment was when Mr. Schieffer didn’t press Bush on his answer regarding Supreme Court picks- this is SO IMPORTANT and yet he let it slide. Also, on the issue of delivery I thought Schieffer’s questions were partisan in all the wrong ways. He continually emphasized how bad things were in Iraq, clearly bating both Kerry and Bush but favoring Kerry, instead of making the questions more open-ended. Then at the end it seemed as if he wanted to make up for the Bush drubbing and decided to lob him some softballs to balance things out, but it diluted the power of the entire discussion. Overall, his moderating created an uneven and less informative debate then it should’ve been.

In closing, we didn’t get to hear about the candidates’ positions on everything and some major issues were covered only superficially, but the public came away with a lot of information about two wildly different men with radically different visions for our country, and we are all better for it.

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