If last night’s non-debate between the presidential candidates is any example, the real face-to-face debates may be worse.
If anything, last night’s show demonstrated why the pressure will be on the moderators, not the candidates. Matt Lauer, host of the “Today Show,” wasn’t the best choice since he isn’t a real news-person. He had fewer than 30 minutes with each candidate, both of whom prefer filibustering and pointing a finger at the other to focusing on what they would do as president. The moderator, though, needs to assert some ground rules (and enforce them) to make it work.
Lauer pressed Clinton several times to keep it short or wrap it for time. He must have thought he hosting “Today” where you better make sure the ads get in before any substance on the show.
What it tells us, what we knew already, is that the moderators in the real debates will be closely watched as to their performance. You don’t want to be the normally terrific Candy Crowley who a few years ago was perceived as inserting herself into the debate as she tried to keep the candidates honest. On the other hand, candidates should not get a pass on blatant lies
Lauer was tougher on Clinton than he was on Trump and that may be because of Trump’s style. Clinton was more defensive and careful (shocking!) in her answers. Trump, who cares less about being truthful than about sounding strong and consistent (even though he isn’t), rolls over any moderator.
Lauer asked each candidate at the beginning of their 30 minutes not to use the time to criticize the other. Clinton, up first, lasted about 10 minutes before she pointed a finger or two at Trump. That made Trump’s play easier because she already broke the “rule” so he was free to at any time. So he did (as would have I). Lauer, having not cut off Clinton, had to allow Trump the same leeway. Thus, as Mr. Trump would say, “it was a disaster.”
Lauer let Trump get away with citing a veterans plan that differs from the plan on his web site. He let Trump get away with saying he was against the Iraq war from Day One (he wasn’t).
Using last night as a learning experience, the moderators for the debates have their work cut out for them. They can’t be rolled over but they can’t be seen as running rough shod, either.
I’ve seen experts suggest things such as have no audience, so no one is playing to the crowd and the crowd isn’t responding with applause or chuckles. A good idea.
Another is to shut the mic off of the one whose turn it isn’t, to cut down on the interrupting of each other. Another good idea. These aren’t “debates” anyway so why let them interrupt each other, other than (and this likely is the reason) it’s good TV to watch two presidential candidates arguing with each other. So, another idea worth trying.
You could penalize a candidate time when he or she uses the time to criticize the other. So, instead of getting two minutes to answer a question, they get two minus whatever time they wasted on the barbs. An idea, but likely too unwieldy and seemingly “unfair” to the candidates.
I wish I had the answer as to how you keep the candidates offering their own solutions rather than tearing down the other. I wish I could tell TV news-people how to stop an interviewee from filibustering, as surrogates for both sides do on all the news shows today. Not only do voters not get the whole truth and nothing but, they get only what the surrogates or candidates want to say. The moderators on those shows have seemed frustrated by that but helpless to stopping it.
With all the bright folks working at the networks, where the moderators come from, and the smart folks from the debate commission, not to mention thousands of political scientists, many of whom study debate process — I’m hoping they figure out a better way than last night.
It was not a show where we learned anything other than the talking points and standard barbs we’ve been hearing. To the TV networks I would say, that is not even good TV.