Both presidential campaigns came together in an all-too-rare moment of agreement — in outlining the specific responsibilities of moderator Candy Crowley, to which she will be bound to in the presidential debate on Tuesday night. In order to avoid any kind of confusion, both camps are hoping to avoid a repeat performance of what happened in 2008 by limiting Crowley's moderating responsibilities.
The moderator is not allowed to “ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits.” The signed memos from the legal counsels of both camps (dated October 3, 2012, the date of the first presidential debate in Denver, Colorado) seem to suggest that Ms. Crowley must strongly abide by the guidelines due to the dynamic nature of town-hall meetings, which change rapidly from one moment to the next.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, the bipartisan panel has overseen the presidential debates since 1998, has faced criticism for its bureaucratic and burdensome procedures in selecting moderators and running debates. The decision to select Crowley as the moderator was not based on her gender, despite the Change.org petition circulated by three teenage girls in New Jersey championing for a female debate moderator. (A woman has not moderated a presidential debate for twenty years, since Carole Simpson presided over the town hall debate in 1992.
And when it comes to limiting Crowley's authority, the reasons behind this rare show of bipartisanship when it comes to the debate are twofold.
Firstly, Ms. Crowley is naturally outspoken in her ambitious journalistic endeavors. Being plainspoken and forceful comes naturally to her, as she is the chief political correspondent for CNN and anchors the weekly show State of the Union.
Despite Ms. Crowley’s initial (over)statement of the importance of her responsibilities in shaping the debate by asking follow-up questions, we won’t see as strong and influential a moderator as Martha Raddatz was in the vice presidential debate. However, in her limited capacity, Ms.Crowley will still be able to select the order in which the questions are posed to the candidates.
Secondly, both camps want to avoid a re-hash of Tom Brokaw’s role as the 2008 moderator between John McCain and Barack Obama. Both campaigns at the time believed that Brokaw had asked too many of his own questions, which reduced the number of questions that the undecided voters were able to ask in the allotted debate time. If these concerns are valid, this latest scheme to head off Crowley is a good idea, as it will provide structure to an imperfect debate system.
This time around, Ms. Crowley is expected to “cut off the microphone of any audience member who attempts to pose any question or statement different than that previously posed to the moderator for review.” This debate approach rules out the possibility of sponsor’s taking advantage of the forum to advertise their goods — such as Pizza Hut’s now retracted scheme which offered a lifetime of free pizzas in exchange for a brave soul asking either nominee about their preferred pizza topping.
In an age of instant feedback, talk show appearances, and social media updates on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, it's very easy to forget that both camps are striving to create a political atmosphere where there are no unexpected surprises. Like it or not, politicians are products molded in a certain image. Many people are involved in the work behind the scenes to ensure that a presidential image is shown of both nominees.
The presidential debates are no exception, and no exception will be made by the campaigns for moderator Candy Crowley.