Since presidential debates started in 1960, the journalists who are supposed to “moderate” them have increasingly set the agenda and determined the substance of what the public sees. In the first 2016 presidential debate, Fox News’ “moderators” focused on what might embarrass candidates rather than on their record or proposals. Also, they indulged the Republican Establishment’s animus against its least favorite candidate. Though this made for an exciting show, the biggest loser was the public’s interest in understanding candidates and issues. The public interest would be best served were candidates to question one another. That’s how it was done in Lincoln’s day. We could and should get back to that.
Choosing the president of the United states on the basis of short answers to questions formulated or chosen by journalists was always a bad idea. It has only gotten worse. Limited to two minutes, as in the League Of Women Voters debates (Fox’s limit was one minute answers and 30 second rebuttals) the candidates can only reprise their canned talking points or the cleverish ads that are the foul staples of modern campaigns. Such parodies of debates demean the candidates, and all of us who watch. Along with the candidates, we the people become pawns in a game between the political consultants, the “moderators,” and the commentators who then tell us who played best.
The Myth Of The Moderator
Because no one ever doubted that “moderators” would influence the outcome of presidential debates, much effort went into giving the impression that the persons chosen were such as whom all would consider objective and super partes. Trust in the media’s impartiality, however, had vanished long before “moderator” Candy Crowley helped Barack Obama sustain a lie in 2012’s second presidential debate by instantly and counterfactually “fact checking” Mitt Romney. How, not whether, Mainstream Media “moderators” push the agendas of the Democratic Establishment they represented is the only question. Indeed, by 2012 it was difficult to avoid the sense that the media, Fox News included, was focusing negative coverage on the most conservative candidate who happened to be leading in the polls at any given time.
So, as Megyn Kelly’s team prepared for the first debate of the 2016 cycle, and as trumping Donald Trump’s challenge to the Republican Establishment became that Establishment’s overriding concern, it was clear that Fox’s “moderators” would be the most intrusive ever, and that their push of their employers’ agenda and their “take down” of their least favorite candidate would be explicit. In both regards, the Fox team broke new ground and established precedents that should lead us to scrap the post 1960 format. (Read more from “Megyn Kelly Shows How Low Our Political Discourse Has Sunk” HERE)