Tuesday night’s ‘town hall’ style presidential debate between President Barack Obama (D) and former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) didn’t break much new ground . . . which is typical for debates these days. Romney put in a solid performance, though he did not appear as confident as he had in the first debate. Obama came across as more smooth and comfortable and edged-out Romney for a narrow win, in my opinion.
But the real stand-out of the evening was the ‘moderation’ (and I use that term loosely) by CNN’s Candy Crowley—which was easily the most biased, unprofessional performance by a presidential debate moderator in the twelve years I’ve been watching.
As the debate kicked into gear, Crowley repeatedly gave Obama the last word even on questions that went to him first. When Romney objected, she tersely told him that the debate ‘doesn’t work like that,’ and once even ordered him to take his seat. By the middle of the debate, the CNN running clocks indicated that Obama had been given more than five extra minutes of speaking time—although Crowley did narrow this gap to about three minutes by the end. She completely disregarded the agreed-upon rules of the debate, interjecting her own follow-on questions (instead of leaving the questioning to the town hall audience) and refusing to enforce any semblance of order or time limits. And most egregiously, Crowley became a direct participant in the debate at least two times—both of which on Obama’s side.
First, she defended the president against Romney’s claim that the administration did not characterize the Benghazi consulate attack in Libya as a terrorist attack until two weeks after it happened. Although Romney’s wording was imprecise, and could be labeled ‘wrong’ if you interpret it in an overly-literal way, his main thesis was exactly correct and Crowley’s ‘correction’ was, at best, misleading. Indeed, she very quickly began walking it back in interviews after the debate concluded. Second, she editorialized about Romney’s flip-flop on assault weapons bans. Crowley was right—Romney has changed positions on this topic—but in a town hall style debate it is up to the audience or the opposing candidate to levy that kind of criticism. And even if that kind of questioning was appropriate in this debate, how come only Romney found himself on the receiving end?
It’s a well-established fact that the vast majority of journalists consider themselves ‘liberals’ (or, more accurately, ‘progressives’) and tend to support Democratic Party candidates. As such, Republican Party candidates usually find themselves at a bit of a disadvantage in media-moderated debates. No big deal. But a professional journalist who took her job seriously would at least try to be fair, adhere to the rules she had agreed upon, give the candidates equal time, and refrain from inappropriate editorializing . . . even if for no better reason than to maintain an appearance of objectivity.
Crowley’s performance offended me, not because I’m ‘conservative,’ but because I still adhere to the old-fashioned notion that good journalism is important, and that journalists should hold themselves to the highest standards of fairness, objectivity, and honesty.