The first debate is over, Romney won the decision, Obama will be looking forward to the rematch, but the clear loser was PBS’ Jim Lehrer.
Mitt Romney said "I love PBS, I love Big Bird. I like you, too, Jim." Those were the kindest words Jim Lehrer heard all night.
The 78-year old Lehrer, who came out of semi-retirement to moderate his 12th presidential debate, received harsh criticism from both the left and the right. Conservative talk show host Laura Ingraham tweeted that Lehrer seemed “a bit overwhelmed.” Liberal talk show host Bill Maher was not as a kind, he tweeted “Lehrer sucked.” During the debate Maher tweeted, “Hey Lehrer, you’re the ref, stop letting [Romney] bully you – he can’t fire you!”
USA Today said “He asked President Obama and Romney to stick to the questions asked. They didn't. He asked Romney, after the first statement, to ask President Obama a direct question. He didn't. He objected to Mitt Romney taking the last word on the first question. He took it anyway. He told President Obama his time was up. He took more time. He asked them both, at the start, to stick to the limits set. And then he, and they, acted as if the limits didn't exist.”
The Huffington Post quoted Fox News’ Chris Wallace who said "[Lehrer] seemed to lose control."
Lehrer’s sad sack performance was trending on Twitter. New York Magazine said “Before the candidates had delivered their closing remarks, a consensus had already emerged on Lehrer's performance, with "Poor Jim" trending on Twitter and a new "Silent Jim Lehrer" account quickly gaining thousands of followers.”
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution posted some of the tweets from political pundits. "I'm waiting for one of them to throw a spitball at the teacher, I mean Jim Lehrer," tweeted Sherri Shepherd of ABC's The View. "Regardless of who is winning this debate, Jim Lehrer is losing," tweeted Dan Abrams of ABC News.
The debate format was supposed to consist of 6 "pods," a 15-minute segment on a specific topic. The first pod lasted almost 30 minutes. By the end of the debate, Lehrer had run out of time and could only complete 5 of the planned segments.
Romney and Obama repeatedly ignored his direction and Lehrer struggled to maintain control of the debate. Whenever Lehrer tried to regain control he was rebuffed by the candidates. When Lehrer tried to end the first segment, Romney told him, "I get the last word of this segment."
While responding to Romney’s comments on health care Lehrer tried to cut the President off. Obama responded with a terse admonition. "I had 5 seconds before you interrupted me," he told Lehrer. Obama finished his thoughts at which Lehrer responded, "Your 5 seconds went away a long time ago."
That was basically how the whole debate went, Lehrer trying to keep the candidates and the discussion on track and the candidates routinely ignoring his attempts.
Lehrer appeared to be forcing the discussion. He repeatedly asked the candidates if they had a difference of opinion with the others response on policy. Why he felt the need to ask so many open-ended questions, without any follow-up is anybody’s guess. At one point Lehrer even suggested that Romney should ask the president a question about the deficit. "Would you have a question you'd like to ask the president about what he just said?" he said to Romney.
Alex Wagner of MSNBC tweeted, "Crazy that Lehrer thinks any of these answers will come in under 15 mins given how broad the questions are."
In the post-debate analysis MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said, "I do believe that we saw this debate format die a very painful death on camera tonight, the format and, I think, the moderator, honestly, with all due respect to Jim Lehrer."