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Monday, October 22, 2012

Romney v. Obama No. 2: Moderators in all things

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 largely realized.

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 debate.

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 moderator?

And with the rude, frustrating and incessant interruptions of both President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, will it even matter?