Politics, government and public life for Southern California

The challenges of debate moderating have grown along with partisan differences

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US President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Undecided voters asked questions during a town hall format.

There continue to be questions about how moderators approach Presidential debates and about whether the extra time President Obama has received in the first two debates indicates moderator bias in his favor. 

I had chalked up the concerns to Republican hyper-partisanship, such as we saw with many Democrats criticizing Jim Lehrer for his moderating — as though Obama would’ve won the first debate if only Lehrer had asserted himself more.   However, even CNN has been doing significant follow-up on its own Candy Crowley’s performance in debate number two. 

Maybe it’s not just hardcore GOP loyalists who are questioning Crowley’s decision-making on when to cut in and when to allow the candidates to take more time. I thought she did pretty well, but there are plenty of critics.

As someone who has moderated hundreds of debates, I thought I’d share my thoughts on what we’ve seen so far in this election. Though I’ve never moderated a Presidential debate, with its incredible level of attention, concern about rules, and demands by campaigns, there are certain fundamentals regardless of the office or issue at stake.

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