Both Campaigns Want Tonight's Female Presidential Debate Moderator to Shut the Hell Up

Illustration for article titled Both Campaigns Want Tonight's Female Presidential Debate Moderator to Shut the Hell Up

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reassured the public on Monday that she was pretty sure that during the Presidential debate on Tuesday, the candidates wouldn't forget to talk about women like they did last time. I mean, it's a town hall debate format, so audience members get to ask the questions. Surely one lady-type will have something of substance to say, right? And surely the debate's female moderator (CNN's Candy Crowley) will ask something, anything about equal pay, maternity leave, the mounting expense of higher education, end-of-life care for the millions women who survive their husbands (and the unique ways that elderly women, especially, depend on Social Security), abortion and contraception issues, immigrant women, or lesbians — right? Well, not if the Obama and Romney campaigns get their way. According to a document leaked yesterday, both campaigns are furiously negotiating terms that essentially dictate that Candy Crowley's role as moderator is to sit there and swallow their talking points without showing any backbone.


During a press call on Monday, Florida's Wasserman Schultz said that the format for tomorrow's Nerd Fight will almost certainly (please, oh my god please) going to veer on over to the ladies. She said,

I think they quite naturally will be a part of the debate, particularly because of the way the format is set up. Given that it's a town hall, and you have a moderator who's essentially just facilitating the questions and the flow of discussion, I would fully expect these issues to come up because given that the audience is going to include a number of women who share the same concerns that we do, that those questions would be put to the candidates.

Translation: Wasserman Schultz is hopeful that CNN's Candy Crowley is probably going to Martha Raddatz both Obama and Romney, steering them toward at least one question that has something to do with we human Americans unfortunate enough to be born without a penis.

Crowley, who is only the second female Presidential debate moderator in history, has herself remarked that she eagerly looks forward to pressing both candidates on facts, and getting them to speak candidly. Wade through the political bullshit, if you will.

In a debate, you don't want to go over plowed ground. […] I'm always kind of looking for the next question … So there's opportunity for follow-up to kind of get them to drill down on the subjects that these folks want to learn about in the town hall.

That's the sort of behavior the American people deserve from a person trusted to wrangle two politicians who are both trying to be The Boss of Us, right? Accountability? Honesty? Something that wasn't pre-scripted and pre-approved and practiced?

Shockingly (!!!), conservative news outlets are reporting this in a wholly disappointing fashion. Human Events (not linking, due to shittiness) thoughtfully headlined their take on the story Moderator gone wild!, as though ladies can't be trusted to seriously handle serious man things like politics, as though last week Martha Raddatz started the debate by ripping her shirt open while members of the audience threw campaign tee shirts at her and Crowley planned on opening the debate by giving the President a lap dance. Because you know what girls do — they go wild!

The controversy over Crowley's apparent intention to disregard the debate rules echoes the criticism I offered of Martha Raddatz's awful performance at the vice presidential debate, an almost comically biased affair in which she let one astonishing whopper after another slide from Joe Biden, while arguing incessantly with Paul Ryan. The problem with letting Crowley take control of the debate to ask, "Hey, what about X, Y, and Z?" is that her personal memory and judgment are the only factors defining X, Y, and Z. That will contradict the intended spirit of the town-hall format, in which the audience questions are supposed to shape the debate, not provide springboards for the moderator's imagination.


But it's not just in-the-tank-for-Romney outlets that are pre-whining about Crowley's theoretical bad job as moderator.

Yesterday, Yahoo News posted a poll so stupid that if it were to apply to college, its rejection letter would arrive in the form of a CD recording of the admissions committee laughing hysterically. IS CANDY CROWLEY A GOOD PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MODERATOR CHOICE? the poll asks a reader base who are statistically more likely to click on a gallery of underboob than an article about how not to accidentally hammer a nail into your head. These are people who don't understand homonyms. Is a veteran political journalist who has reported on globally relevant stories you have ignored for years fit to moderate what is essentially a bullshit fashion show? After all, she does have a vagina. Let's all get worked into a state of concern about her competence.


Both campaigns, like a bunch of big fucking babies, have made moves to keep Crowley in check. According to TIME, both the Obama and Romney camp have already began preemptively whining about Crowley's role during the debate, bugging the Presidential Debate Commission about making sure that CNN's badass political correspondant not ask any tough follow up questions.

Likely fearful of being as Raddatz'd by tough gotcha questions as Wasserman Schultz implied, both candidates are currently working on an agreement that would severely limit Crowley's role in debate proceedings. And, in a truly fitting-for-this-election-season fashion, Crowley is not party to these talks. She's got no say in what her role will be tonight, but it looks like if the candidates get their way, Crowley will be more of a singalong leader and less of a conversational driver who asks hard-hitting questions. Both campaign lawyers have signed off on a giant memo that contains the following passage,

In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic … The moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the two-minute response period.


Seriously. No rephrasing. No follow up questions. No being a fucking journalist. If that's all they want from Crowley, why not tap Honey Boo Boo's mom or Ryan Lochte to moderate the debates? That would be way more entertaining than watching Candy Crowley sit there, silenced and underutilized while both candidates barf up talking points and call it a pâté. Voters deserve to see their candidates answer questions that they didn't practice like a trumpet solo. They deserve to see the men vying for President respond to tough questions. They deserve to see them immediately fact checked by a journalist doing her damn job.

Our advice? Go rogue, Candy. And give 'em hell.




OK, so to be fair, the campaigns and the presidential debate commission both agreed, before any moderators were chosen, that the town hall debate be audience-led rather than moderator-led/dominated because Tom Brokaw was roundly criticized last election cycle for not letting enough questions from the audience come up, rephrasing them to get to a different point than what the audience member wanted to ask, etc. So when Crowly was talking last week about how much more involved she would be than all of the other parties involved in setting up the debates anticipated, everyone got nervous. There is a benefit to having an audience-led debate and I can understand why all parties might want to maintain that for one of the debates. So, as much as I think there needs to be WAY more of a lady-presence in the debates, I really think this is more of a function of what the intended structure of a town hall debate was than just wanting a lady to shut up.