By Joseph Curl
Another debate, another debacle for America’s media.
In the runup to the second presidential debate, CNN’s Candy Crowley declared that she would not just be a “fly on the wall” as she played the tiny role of moderator, that she would step in whenever she chose to say, “Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?”
And boy did she, cutting off Republican Mitt Romney repeatedly and often throwing the floor to President Obama with an open “let me give the president a chance here.”
More, she alone decided the topics for the debate, picking questions from the 80 so-called “undecided” voters chosen by the Gallup polling organization. Her selections were tailor-made for Mr. Obama – Mitt Romney’s tax plan, women’s rights and contraception, outsourcing, immigration, the Libya debacle (which gave Mr. Obama to finally say that the buck stops with him, not, as Hillary Clinton said, with her).
She even chose this question, directed to both men: “I do attribute much of America’s economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration. Since both of you are Republicans, I fear the return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?”
Ms. Crowley, who called Mr. Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as running mate a “ticket death wish,” asserted her unilateral power at the outset, telling the audience before the cameras went on that she planned to “give the debate direction and ensure the candidates give answers to the questions.”
After both candidates answered Question One, she blurted: “Let me get a more immediate answer” – whatever that means. But when Mr. Romney sought to correct falsehoods told by the president, she cut him off: “We have all these folks here.” In the end, Mr. Obama would get 9 percent more time.
At Question Two, Mr. Obama, asked by Mr. Romney how much he had cut federal oil permits, took over the floor – with Ms. Crowley’s silent approval. “Here’s what happened,” he said as he filibustered for a full minute. Mr. Romney sought to get the last word – as the president had the question before – but the moderator shut him down: “It’ doesn’t quite work like that.”
When Mr. Romney sought to counter Mr. Obama’s assertion after Question Three, Ms. Crowley again cut him off: “Before we get into a vast array….” she said before asking a completely different question.
The next question was pure Obama – workplace inequality (the president mention at every stop his Lily Ledbetter legislation). But the query gave him the platform to demand Americans pay for contraception for all women, saying the governor “feels comfortable having politicians in Washington decide the health care choices that women are making.”
For the record, Mr. Obama spoke for two minutes, then Mr. Romney, then Mr. Obama again. Ms. Crowley then rushed into the next question.
When the immigration question came up, both candidates gave their answers. Then the moderator once again butted in, ordering Mr. Romney to “speak to the idea of self-deportation.”
By then, Mr. Romney had had enough, and talked over her demands. “No, let – let – let me go back and speak to the points the president made and – and – and let’s get them correct.”
At the next question, the moderator lost all control. “Candy,” Mr. Obama said. “Hold on.” “Mr. President,” the governor said, “I’m still speaking.” They mixed it up for a bit, then Ms. Crowley said: “Sit down, Mr. Romney.”
The most shocking exchange took place on the Benghazi attack that left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others dead.
Mr. Romney: “You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you’re saying.”
Mr. Obama made no defense. “Please proceed, governor.”
“I want to make sure,” Mr. Romney said. “Get the transcript,” the president said. Then Ms. Crowley jumped in to do her own fact-check, on the spot. “It – it – it – he did in fact, sir. … He did call it an act of terror.”
The truth is, he didn’t. The day after the attack, he said only this: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.” It took another two weeks before the White House would label the attack an act of terror.
The Obama people, of course, loved it – having blamed Mr. Obama’s dismal performance in the first debate on poor moderating.
“He’s back,” said Team O spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who lauded Ms. Crowley for her fact checking.
But then she caught herself and quickly added: “He was never really gone, but he’s back.”
Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times.
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