Innocently, on September 26, 1960, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon entered the CBS television studio in Chicago, Illinois. This was the first presidential debate on national television. Compared to current audiences for a debate, the crowd in the studio was minimal. The candidates were prepared to discuss the issues facing the nation. It was a serious back and forth about how the nation should confront the major issues. The CBS executives attempted to construct a fair playing field for the debate, even checking to see if Nixon wanted professional make-up applied. After the debate it was quickly learned that style, appearance, and cleverness was what could win the day for the candidates. Nevertheless, there was little complaining about biased moderators and questions — it was an age of innocence.
The reporters of the era were trained on the World War II model of Edward R. Murrow, and many had been involved in some aspect of 1940s journalism. Perhaps they had some bias, but it was bias they attempted to sublimate; they wanted to appear objective at the least, and many wanted to be objective.
It should be noted that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution about presidential debates, and CBS believed it was doing a public service holding the first debate. The nightly newscast was fifteen minutes at the time and not until 1963 did it become thirty minutes. Debates have evolved as television has evolved. Yet, presidential debates have typically included journalists of some form as moderators and questioners of the candidates.
Journalism has changed mightily since 1960. Now most of the journalists freely admit they are Democrats and many more give campaign contributions to Democrats than they give to Republicans. And it is not even close, it ranges upwards from eighty percent Democrat to in some instances over ninety percent. More importantly, a half century after the first debate, many of these journalists freely demonstrate their interest in helping the Democrats.
So the question must be asked: “How are the presidential debates working with journalist moderators who have substantial bias?”
During the second debate of 2012, Mitt Romney was pointing out that Obama and his administration had failed to admit the truth about a planned terrorist attack on an American outpost in Benghazi, Libya. Candy Crowley, CNN reporter and moderator of the second debate, interrupted Mitt Romney and corrected him: “He [Obama] did in fact call Benghazi an act of terror;” then the crowd clapped. Crowley left the impression that Romney was incorrect. Although more was said about the matter, and Romney made his points, observers saw that it was the moderator and Obama against Romney. Crowley not only revealed her ignorance, but also her bias.
The television film clips and insiders after the debate showed that for days and even weeks after the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans, including an ambassador, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went around telling people, including the United Nations and families of the dead patriots, that it was a spontaneous uprising caused by an obscure video, and in reality all the while Clinton and Obama knew the truth — that it was planned terrorist attack. This was almost exactly what Romney said in the debate! Would not the viewers and America learn that Obama was essentially lying and Candy Crowley was incorrect?
The answer is “no” for two reasons. First, a huge percentage of the American population
do not read newspapers and they do not watch a variety of different media sources. Such people will never learn that what was said during the debate was false, much less understand what was said during the debate. Every time reporters go on the street and ask passersby political questions, the lack of information of many people is proven. What these low information viewers will remember from the debate is that Crowley corrected Romney on terrorism and defended Obama.
Second, and unfortunately, those debate viewers who do follow establishment media news will discover little coverage and correction providing truth. In an environment in which the television reporters and moderators assist with the lying during a debate, it is not well-corrected after the debate. ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and many newspapers are in the tank for the Democratic candidate. They simply do not report or under report negative news about the Democrats.
Candy Crowley’s biased interruption was likely to be one of the few times millions of Americans had a chance to learn about the candidates, and Candy Crowley spun it unfairly against Romney.
If the Candy Crowley moment of 2012 was the only time such a terrible act was made in a debate, it might be overlooked; however, now we have Lester Holt, NBC anchor, who moderated the first 2016 presidential debate. Holt by approximate counts interrupted Trump 41 times, compared to 17 times for Clinton, and Holt interrupted Trump five times on fact check matters and one or none for Clinton; one of these times Holt intervened to claim Trump was in error and that “stop and frisk” police procedure was ruled unconstitutional. Trump fought back vigorously, rightly arguing it had not been ruled unconstitutional. Compared to Holt’s performance, Crowley now seems like Mary Poppins.
It is unfortunate for Holt that he made the intervention and revealed his ignorance. In addition, if the first 2016 debate was a basketball game and one team was called for 41 fouls and another team was called for 17 fouls, it would be suspected the officials may have had bias. Of course it could be the one team was simply more prone to foul. Nevertheless, it would raise many eyebrows, and the far left has raised many issues of wrong doing based on narrower numerical gaps than 41 to 17. With millions of citizens watching the debate, if Clinton wins the election, Hillary should give Lester a permanent free reservation in the Lincoln bedroom.
In the second presidential debate of 2016 it was a town hall format with the audience asking questions and two moderators, Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper, both from left wing media companies. The number of interruptions by the moderators have various counts, depending on the source, but most of them have Trump being interrupted more. By one count Trump was interrupted 26 times and Clinton 12 Times. In addition, Raddatz pressed Trump on one question, asking him multiple follow-up question. By one count Raddatz had six follow-ups, and she also found herself debating substance with Trump. The program may have come across as slightly less biased than the first debate, but it still appeared that when Trump began revealing all of Hillary’s dishonesties, the moderators, as in the first debate, attempted to stop him. On balance both candidates had approximately equal time.
Even more troubling was information that was discovered after the debate. There was some evidence that Hillary Clinton was given the exact, word-for-word question that was asked in a town hall meeting on March 13 during the nomination process. Such stories suggest a level of collusion with a candidate that goes beyond any respectable journalistic enterprise. In addition there is a rumor that informally, the left wing news organizations have put out the word that all their employees must spin the stories in favor of Hillary and against Trump. It is obvious to anyone who knows the facts of a news story, that ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and MSNBC are suppressing some parts of the news and debate results, and are spinning the reporting of the debates in favor of Hillary.
The third debate, still to come on October 19, will be moderated by Chris Wallace of the conservative leaning Fox News, a highly respected anchor, so highly respected that it is unlikely he will be anything except even-handed. It is unlikely Wallace will tarnish his reputation by helping Trump. Still, a fair debate could put Hillary at a disadvantage.
In the present format, the presidential debates are unfair, not a level playing field, and actually blemish and disgrace some of the journalist moderators.
The presidential debates are largely out of control. The liberal media cannot be trusted to do a fair job moderating. The Republicans should not participate in debates unless the format is changed and made fair.
One possibility is to have two moderators for each debate, and the Republicans choose one and the Democrats choose one. These moderators would control equal time; the time could be in 15 minute blocks, and if the last moderator played favorites, the next moderator could orchestrate a rebuttal.
Another possibility would be to have an umpire, such as in tennis, and the umpire would be of the opposite party of the moderator, and this umpire would have authority to intervene if it was believed the moderator was over the line. This format could result in the umpire debating the moderator—not a good situation, but perhaps the umpire format could somehow be improved.
These are two ideas of what might be attempted for the future; however, as it stands now, Lester Holt, Candy Crowley, and others have proven the moderators have bias. Presidential debates cannot be turned over to the left media moderators. “It is a rigged system.”
John Havick has a Ph.D. in political science. He was a professor at Georgia Institute of Technology for many years, authored several books and a number of articles, including the widely cited "The Impact of the Internet on a Television-Based Society." His work has appeared in The New York Times, and his recent book, "The Ghosts of NASCAR: The Harlan Boys and the First Daytona 500," is available at ghostsofnascar.com. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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