Frustration against Lehrer boiled over predominantly among Democrats like Michael Moore and Rachel Maddow who were witnessing Obama's admittedly poor performance in the first debate. The former PBS host said he essentially tried to get out of the way, asking general questions and letting the candidates go after each other.
"I wondered if we needed a moderator since we had Mitt Romney," Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said, even though her candidate talked longer. As in the second debate, Romney spoke more words.
ABC's Raddatz generally received strong reviews for her work moderating the one debate between Vice President Joe Biden and challenger Paul Ryan. Conservative media was buzzing days before the event, however, with the story that future president Obama attended her 1991 wedding to Julius Genachowski, Obama's Harvard classmate. The couple divorced in 1999. Allusions to the wedding popped up in grumbling tweets by Republicans about Raddatz's questioning.
One motive of the pre- and post-debate criticism is to "work the refs," to let the moderators know that partisans are watching. If intimidation works, even on a subtle level, it can seep into their performances at a time when even modest advantages can make a big difference.
During the second debate, George Mason University went so far as to count how many times each candidate and Crowley interrupted one another. They found that Romney was interrupted 58 times and Obama 43. The numbers came with little context, however, so it wasn't clear how many interruptions were related to candidates exceeding agreed-upon time limits.
Crowley's role in the Libyan discussion also raised the issue of how much the moderators should be prepared to practice journalism while onstage. If you hear something factually incorrect or misleading, is it your duty to point it out to viewers, or is that strictly the candidates' job?
For most viewers, the answer no doubt has to do with which candidate is being corrected.
So let's get this moderator's job straight:
Craft sharp questions to get the candidates to talk, while being meticulously fair not to challenge one more than another. Keep an eye on the clock so one candidate doesn't get to hog the time. Don't be bullied; be firm in forcing the candidates to move on. But be flexible enough to keep a productive discussion flowing. Know the difference. Keep the focus off yourself. And do it all on live television before some 60 million people.
"There is not enough money to get me to do one of these things," Brown said.
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