Tim Skubick: Don't be surprised when debate moderators weigh in - Fox 2 News Headlines

Tim Skubick: Don't be surprised when moderators weigh in on debates

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By Tim Skubick
fox 2 Political Consultant

LANSING, Mich. (WJBK) - Well if Candy Crowley was not a household word before, she sure the heck is now!

Doing political journalism is not rocket science.  Get the story right and don't become part of the story.  CNN's Ms. Crowley, who refereed the second presidential debate, apparently missed the memo.

In case you were watching the Tigers almost shutout those nasty Bronx Bombers the other night, Ms. Crowley stepped in it.

GOP challenger Mitt Romney was scoring points and actually had the president on the ropes over the death of a U.S. Ambassador in Libya.  It was a theme and variation on the old saw, "What did you know and when do you know it?"

Mr. Romney thought he had cornered the president on whether there was a terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy and when did his opponent reach that conclusion.  Poised to deliver the knock-out punch, Ms. Crowley got into the ring and confirmed the president's take on the story.

Oh my, the boys in the Romney war room came unglued.  "She disgraced herself.  She showed a pro-Obama bias," they lamented in a post debate counter punch of their own. And that was just for openers.

"Her behavior goes beyond despicable.  It was a blatant attempt to influence the presidential election," huffed and puffed the Americans for Limited Government.  

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (D-Utah) joined in the chorus discerning that "It's not the role of the moderator to say Mr. President, you're right or Mr, Romney, you're right."

And there sports fans is the nub of the dispute:  Should the moderator weigh in on disputes between the candidates?

Been there, done that.

Back when former Gov. John Engler was poised to knock sitting governor and Democrat Jim Blanchard out of the box, the two appeared in a Michigan Public TV debate and argued over a tax hike:  Was it temporary?

The moderator, slipping off his game for a nano-second declared that Mr. Blanchard was right.

Mr. Engler, being who he was, was shocked and said so. It got ugly.  The moderator was ashamed.

But should Ms. Crowley feel the same way?

Her backers will say she was doing her job.  Nowhere is it written that a debate moderator can not act as an instant fact-checker.

After all correspondents get paid to ferret out the truth, so she confirmed when the president first used the term " act of terror."  What she failed to do  was explain the distinction between "act of terror" and "act of terrorism" which is the tact Mr. Romney was on.

Complicating the picture even more was the pre-game flap over the moderator's role.  There was a memorandum of understanding that she would not ask follow up questions.  She professed no knowledge of the incredible restriction on her role as a political journalist.  She therefore ignored it.

"I will not be a potted-plant," advised former NBC anchor guy Tom Brokaw when he was picked to be a town hall moderator way back when.

And that's as it should be.  If the two parties don't want a journalist to do his or her job, then they should hire a potted plant to just ask the questions and then go take a nap.

Ms. Crowley was in no mood to do that and she didn't..much to the chagrin of her legions of detractors.

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