Niagara Gazette

Opinion

October 23, 2012

Editorial: Rate presidential debate format

Niagara Gazette — The televised presidential debates are over, and we hope voters will take what they learned from those forums and from articles they have read in newspapers and other reputable sources to make an informed decision in this close race.

With three types of format and different moderators, the debates between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney each had their own flavor.

The first took place in Denver and focused on domestic policy. It was divided into six time segments of about 15 minutes each, with topics selected by moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS's "Newshour" and announced several weeks before the debate. Each segment opened with a question, which each candidate had two minutes to answer. The moderator used the rest of the time to steer discussion.

The problem was that Lehrer had a tough time controlling Obama and Romney, who stood at separate podiums and frequently interrupted each other, talked past their allotted time and didn't really answer the questions.

The second debate, in Hempstead, NY, had a town-meeting-style format, which allowed citizens to ask the candidates questions on foreign and domestic issues. Romney and Obama each had two minutes to respond, with an additional minute for the moderator to further the discussion.

The candidates were both roaming the center floor, and when the discussion heated up and Obama and Romney approached each other, viewers were left wondering if some shoving might occur. The moderator was Candy Crowley, CNN chief political correspondent, and while she did a better job of cutting off the candidates when they exceeded their time, she also overstepped her boundaries as a journalist by confirming something Obama said about his wording at a news conference. She should have left that to the post-debate fact-checkers.

The final debate took place Monday night at in Boca Raton, Fla. With a focus on foreign policy, this debate had a format exactly like the first, except that the candidates sat in chairs across from moderator Bob Schieffer. The discussion, although heated at times, came across as much more civil. Maybe it was because Romney and Obama were seated just a couple of feet from each other. Maybe it was because they knew, by then, that viewers would be counting how many times they interrupted each other. Maybe it was that Schieffer, host of "Face the Nation" on CBS, carries more respect and did a better job maintaining control.

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