Thursday, October 18, 2012

Debate 2 Obama & Romney: The role of the moderator and questions for CNN

Romney, Crowler, Obama
The furor over the intervention by moderator Candy Crowler in the second presidential debate has not died down, nor will it before November 6.

The Republicans are claiming that the moderator stepped outside the rules and intervened in the debate in a way that was contrary to the agreed rules. 

CNN has responded rapidly by praising Crowler. 

The blogosphere and mainstream media is awash with speculation about what the Administration knew about the terrorist attack on September 11 in Benghazi, and whether the Obama team has tried to cover up the terrorist act and blame the incident on the video circulating at the the time.

It’s interesting to check the memorandum of agreement signed by the two campaigns regulating the procedures to be used in the presidential debates organized by the Commission for Presidential Debates. A copy of that Memorandum is found here.

The Commission had to agree to provide each moderator with a copy of the Memorandum and to use its best efforts to implement its terms:

No third parties to see questions:

The Memorandum takes steps to protect the secrecy of the questions that would be asked, and prevents third parties and the campaigns eing involved:

The question that I cannot answer right now is a simple one: What was the role of CNN in vetting the questions that moderator Candy Crowler was preparing for Debate 2?

The Memorandum speaks only of Candy Crowler as the moderator, not of CNN.

CNN speaks about Crowler and “her team”.

Crowler ‘all over the nitty gritty of’ the Benghazi dispute:

My earlier post sets out the whole Benghazi exchange from the transcript of the second debate. It allows you to read exactly what Obama, Romney and Crowler said during the exchange.

CNN lost no time in springing to the defence of Crowler.

CNN complimented Crowler for doing a good job (my underlining and redlining):

Within CNN, says the source, acclaim for Crowley’s performance has been unanimous. As for the pivotal moment when Crowley chose to fact-check Mitt Romney on the spot regarding whether President Obama had called Benghazi an “act of terror,” a CNN source says Crowley was all over the nitty gritty of that dispute. She had discussed it internally at CNN prior to taking the stage at Hofstra University the other night, says the source. Crowley has been panned, in the view of many at CNN, for committing an act of journalism.

That seems a bit nebulous.

Role of CNN in Moderator’s Preparation:

Did Crowler discuss the Benghazi incident with CNN before the debate – and did this discussion include the Benghazi question? The above quote seems to indicate that this happened.  Did it?

And, did it include any discussion of the President’s Rose Garden speech?

If so, was such discussion within the terms of the Memorandum?

Or is CNN actually a “third party”, and Crowler’s discussion of the Benghazi question a breach of the prohibition of third parties knowing the questions before the debate?

This is how CNN describes her team  (my bolding and redlining) :

The mood of CNN management regarding the affair is summed up in a Whitaker memo to CNN staffers that TMZ has posted:
 “Let’s start with a big round of applause for Candy Crowley for a superb job under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. She and her team had to select and sequence questions in a matter of hours, and then she had to deal with the tricky format, the nervous questioners, the aggressive debaters, all while shutting out the pre-debate attempts to spin and intimidate her. She pulled it off masterfully.
The reviews on Candy’s performance have been overwhelmingly positive but Romney supporters are going after her on two points, no doubt because their man did not have as good a night as he had in Denver. On the legitimacy of Candy fact-checking Romney on Obama’s Rose Garden statement, it should be stressed that she was just stating a point of fact: Obama did talk about an act (or acts) of terror, no matter what you think he meant by that at the time. On why Obama got more time to speak, it should be noted that Candy and her commission producers tried to keep it even but that Obama went on longer largely because he speaks more slowly. We’re going to do a word count to see whether, as in Denver, Romney actually got more words in even if he talked for a shorter period of time.”
The reference to Crowler’s team is interesting.

Where her team all employees of CNN?

If so, discussions within her team about the Benghazi question could be within the terms of the Memorandum. Discussion by the Team would then not be a discussion with a “third party” and no breach on this point.

What was that paper, Candy?

Candy Crowler with The Paper
When Romney disputed the President’s statement that he had called the Benghazi attack an “act of terror”, the President said: Get the transcript. Crowler immediately picked up a piece of paper from the desk before her and waved it in the air, as this video shows (around the 1.50 mark or so), while saying to Romney that the President did indeed say “act of terror” during the Rose Garden speech.

The video seems to show Crowler waving a piece of paper in response to the President’s statement to “Get the transcript”.

A legitimate question to Crowther would be: What was that piece of paper you had in your hand and waved in the air? Was it the transcript of the President’s Rose Garden speech, or connected to his statement in that speech?

If she says that it was something else entirely, and had no connection to the President’s speech in the Rose Garden, so be it.

However, if she says it had a connection, then all hell will break loose.

Further legitimate followup questions would be: Why did you have this particular paper on your desk? Where you alerted by anyone before the debate that this quote by the President from his Rose Garden speech would be made?

This is what Crowler said after the debate about her preparation for the Benghazi incident:

PPS And Crowly's version of the matter. This is what she now says (no mention of anyone else bringing the President's Rose Garden speech to her attention - "I did ..."):
CANDY CROWLEY, debate moderator, after the debate: You know, again, I heard the president's speech at the time. I sort of reread a lot of stuff about Libya because I knew we'd probably get a Libya question, so I kind of wanted to be up on it. So we knew that the president had said, you know, 'these acts of terror won't stand,' or whatever the whole quote was.

I think actually, you know, because right after that, I did turn to Romney and said you were totally correct but they spent two weeks telling us that this was about a tape and that there was this riot outside of the Benghazi consulate, which there wasn't. So he was right in the main, I just think that he picked the wrong word.

Intervention by Crowler:

It seems to me that Crowler’s intervention – her confirmation of the President’s statement that he said “act of terror” during his Rose Garden speech the day after the Benghazi killings – was contrary to the Memorandum, which specifically limited the role of the moderator:

Why is this important?

The role of the parties and of third parties in pre-debate preparation for presidential debates is important for one simple reason: fairness between the two parties should prevail.

If there is room for one party to frame the questions and the discussions during such debates, this would distort the process in an undemocratic way.

And that is partly why there is so much fuss going on right now about Debate 2.


  1. Today's RealClear electoral college estimate:

    Obama 201
    Romney 209
    Needed 270

  2. The Hill:

    Perhaps Obama lost the presidency weeks ago, on Oct. 3, when he sleepwalked and scribbled through the first debate and helped make Romney a new candidate overnight. It was Obama's night to finish Romney off; behind in the polls, even Romney likely woke up that morning thinking it was over. But Obama underestimated the task, the challenger and the electorate — all in 90 minutes.

  3. The Daily Beast:

    Field operatives have been undervalued in recent years, as the focus of campaigns has shifted to big-money ad-bombs, compounded by the super-PAC economy. But this presidential campaign is going to come down to a few percentage points in a half dozen states, and suddenly ground game is about to get a lot of respect.

    So The Daily Beast decided to map out the Obama and Romney local headquarters across the country as one way of gauging the strength of each campaign’s ground game. And what we found was an overwhelming advantage—755 to 283—by the Obama campaign on at least this one metric.

    In the key swing states of this election the numbers are stark:

    In Ohio, 122 Obama local HQs compared to 40 for Romney.

    In Florida, the Obama campaign has 102 local HQs versus 48 for Romney.

    And in Virginia, a more even split—47 for Obama compared to 29 for Romney.

  4. Rassmussen weighs in on the state of the race:

    Friday, October 12, 2012

    According to Political Class pundits, the race for the White House was turned upside down by a single debate. The reality, however, is that a very close race shifted ever so slightly from narrowly favoring President Obama to narrowly favoring Mitt Romney. Either way, it remains too close to call.

    The difference is that voters base their decisions on the substantive issues in the world around them. The Political Class is distracted by superficial imagery, an obsession with the game of politics and the sound of their own voices.

    While it might be boring to those in the Political Class, Election 2012 has been stable all year. Oh, sure, there have been occasional mini-surges where one candidate gained a little ground temporarily. But it's been close all along.

    That's because elections are primarily about fundamentals. In January, the most important fundamental was that the president's job approval rating had been stuck around 47 percent or 48 percent for two full years. That's good enough to be competitive but not good enough to ensure victory. An Electoral College analysis in January showed that four states were likely to be decisive -- Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina.


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