Let’s hope CNN’s Candy Crowley, PBS staple Jim Lehrer and all future moderators of high-level political discourse were watching a master at work last night in the third Presidential debate of 2012.
Veteran CBS newsman Bob Schieffer was like a good umpire in a high-pressure baseball game. He let the players decide the outcome. He made no calls or interjected his presence above what everybody was tuned in to see: the combatants.
There has been scattered criticism of Schieffer for letting the debate stray from its intended sole focus: foreign policy. Both President Obama and Governor Romney did turn away from international issues to promote their domestic planks. But to use a football metaphor, Schieffer “let ‘em play,” and use the same set of referee rules to oversee both.
In fairness to putting Crowley’s performance below Schieffer’s, it should be noted that her circumstance – a public forum, where the audience asks questions and the candidates are free to stroll around the stage – is tougher to control than a sit-down face-to-face tilt.
NBC’s iconic former anchor Tom Brokaw was skewered on Saturday Night Live after he moderated the 2008 Presidential public-forum prize fight. The joke was that Brokaw barely let candidates answer a question, much less let audience members finish queries, before yelling out, “Time!”
Independent observers might agree that this year, Lehrer, Crowley and Schieffer swung the other way, and gave the candidates more-than-ample time to over-respond.
But Lehrer let the game get out of hand. And Crowley seemed to want to offer partisan fact-checking. Schieffer, instead, followed up with slightly more focused follow-up questions.
Schieffer has been with CBS News since 1969. He anchored the weekend edition of CBS Evening News from 1973 to 1996, moderates Face The Nation and has been an interim anchor for the weekday evening news.
Lehrer and Crowley are no stiffs. Crowley has earned her spot as a talking head. And Lehrer (like Schieffer) has moderated Presidential debates during the last three elections.
It’s Schieffer, though, who has proven to be the strong-but-relatively-silent moderator who’s the right call for championship games.