When you have people actually taking the time to tabulate the length of time, down to the minute that each candidate gets to speak during a debate, only to be countered by a count of the actual number of words used, you quickly get the sense that you’re dealing with a subject in which there’ll never be agreement.
In this case, I’m talking about the role of a moderator in a political debate. The example above refers to Candy Crowley, the CNN journalist who moderated the second debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Conservatives complained that Obama spoke for a total of 44 minutes, four seconds, while their man, Romney, only had 40 minutes, 50 seconds. Not to be outdone, someone at CNN got the thankless task of counting actual words, concluding that Romney somehow managed to speak some 400 words more than Obama despite the shorter talking time.
Does that qualify as a tie? I wish I had the time on my hands to sit with either a stopwatch or a tally sheet and count up such things. It must be nice.
There’ll be equal scrutiny, no doubt, during the third and final presidential debate airing tonight and moderated by CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, moderator of Face the Nation.
A friend of mine and I had a debate of our own about the role of a moderator the other day. To him, a moderator shouldn’t interject anything in the way of facts and should in no way steer the conversation: the role should only be one of keeping time and making sure both sides get a turn.
I tend to disagree with this…at least in a presidential debate.
Naturally, I don’t want a moderator to allow his or her personal political views to show, or the political views of his or her employer, for that matter. But if a fact error (and in some cases, that’s putting it mildly) is being presented as truth, and the moderator has corroborating information to conclusively demonstrate it as such, I have no problem with that person stepping in to steer a conversation back towards honesty.
In fact, I expect this to happen. If a falsehood is presented as a basis for an argument, the argument itself cannot be fully valid. Therefore, it’s a waste of the precious time the candidates have to present their case and a distinct disservice to the voting public.
[right_quote]If a falsehood is presented as a basis for an argument, the argument itself cannot be fully valid.[/right_quote]It’s too easy to be misled by half-truths and flat-out distortions. Politicians know this, which is why they use them, despite the fact that nearly everyone who has internet access can see them called out on each use within seconds of the words leaving their mouths. Most politicians know that most voters are too lazy to do that much homework, so half-truths and distortions are still an attractive weapon.
I have no problem with a moderator stepping in long enough to get a discussion back to facts when we’re talking about something as important as a presidential election.
But in terms of the “timekeeper” argument, I think that’s an important issue, too. I’d like to see moderators given mute buttons to kill a candidate’s mic when the clock runs out. That way we’d be sure to keep everyone on time.
Should a moderator step in and correct false information to keep the topics on factual track, or should moderators just keep time and leave fact-checking to someone else at a later time?