The two campaigns have been far apart on just about every issue, until this week’s moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, decided to ignore the terms agreed to by the candidates campaigns and announce she would take a more central role in the town hall-style debate.
Town hall debates are supposed to be led by audience members, but Ms. Crowley has announced that she will be pushing the candidates as she sees fit. In a series of interviews on CNN, Crowley has stated that after the basis of the question has been set, she intends to say things like, “Hey, wait a second, what about x,y,z?”
The candidates organizations agreed to the terms set in a memorandum of understanding between themselves and the Commission on Presidential Debates. That memorandum states that the moderator would play a limited roll. Unfortunately, the memorandum was never agreed to by Crowley.
The audience members are picked by Gallup from a field of likely voters. The intent is to give ordinary voting Americans the chance to ask questions that they feel are important. Having a moderator change the tone or direction of the questions minimizes the importance of the voter and raises the influence of the moderator.
According to the terms of the agreement, the moderator is not to “rephrase the question or open a new topic.” In even more explicit terms, the agreement firmly limits the moderator’s role to traffic cop:
The moderator will not 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, and invite candidate comments during the 2 minute response period.
Crowley’s interview statements show that she intends to change the debate into something she would prefer – ignoring the agreement between the campaigns and the commission.
Both campaigns have now sent letters to the commission complaining about Crowley’s intentions to change the terms of the debate.