One of the common themes of both presidential debates has been the participation (or lack thereof) of the moderators. The job of shepherding the conversation between two candidates fighting for the same job is not easy, and thus far each moderator has taken a substantially different approach.
In the first debate, Jim Lehrer closely mirrored members of the
audience who had been primed beforehand to provide the candidates with
90 minutes of silence. The debate finished without the candidates having
an opportunity to discuss an entire final segment.
While his moderation was highly criticized
in the aftermath, Lehrer defends his actions, saying that his role was
to provide the candidates with an opportunity to speak and distinguish
themselves. His reticence notwithstanding, the goals for the debate were
In the second debate, Candy Crowley took the opposite approach. She was
forceful in her attempts to keep the discussion moving according to the
predetermined format and at times seemed like a third debater.
Although her real-time fact-checking has been criticized,
the difference between two candidates talking over each other and two
candidates plus a moderator doing the same did little to soothe the
frustration of many in the American audience who desired a civil and
substantive discussion of the issues. Interestingly, it could be argued
that Crowley's approach was less successful in fulfilling the goals of
The third debate on Oct. 22 will be moderated by Bob Schieffer. The format
will parallel that of the first debate with six 15-minute segments. And
while the country will be watching carefully to see which candidate
lays out the stronger case for victory, the approach and effectiveness
of the moderator will also be a key topic of discussion.
Will Schieffer assume the reserved and loose approach of Lehrer,
emulate the aggressive participation of Crowley, or act as a moderate
And with the rude, frustrating and incessant interruptions of both
President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, will it even matter?