On the morning after the debate, CBS invited Fox's Bill O'Reilly to discuss the debate performances. Interestingly enough, he faulted them all, while CBS's Charlie Rose defended them all.
Rose tried to suggest these debates reveal something more than policy differences, they reveal demeanor and temperament. "Well, then let's have Dr. Phil interview them then," shot back O'Reilly. Naturally, Rose stuck up for all his media colleagues: "Oh stop that. It's not Dr. Phil. You couldn't have done better in terms of the kind of people who are making an analysis and an assessment of this than the guys who are doing the moderation."
Rose didn't discern between the four "guys" moderating. Nor did O'Reilly. But there were differences.
O'Reilly is going against the conservative grain on this when he faults them all. In the first debate, old PBS hand Jim Lehrer let the candidates debate, and for that he was savaged by liberals for "losing control" of the evening.
Some journalists bitterly complained Lehrer was "useless" and even said he should have stayed retired.
In the second debate, ABC's Martha Raddatz demanded fiscal specifics (and then complained she wasn't getting them) from Paul Ryan, but refused to demand the same from Joe Biden. By the end of the evening, she was interrupting so much it seemed like she was interrupting Biden interrupting Ryan.
In the third debate, CNN's Candy Crowley outraged viewers at home by selecting questions from clearly left-wing "undecided voters." She then compounded the error by enabling Barack Obama in his Libya lies. Liberal in the media rallied around Crowley like she'd scored the winning touchdown.
Welcoming a feisty moderator sounds like a terrible idea -- at least as long as the Republicans keep lining up a unanimous cast of four media liberals to do the moderating.
O'Reilly insisted the moderators "have to come in with a 60 Minutes mentality and ask questions and get answers." No they don't, and no they shouldn't. They are not the debaters. They are called moderators for a reason. Their job is to ask good questions, and get out of the way.
Charlie Rose insisted to O'Reilly, "you sound like you want the presidential debate to be a cable news program." But maybe that could be fun, too. Two moderators who would each debate one of the candidates, like on CNN's "Crossfire" in its heyday. O'Reilly could interview/combat the Democrat, and he could recruit his new pal Jon Stewart to interview the Republican from the left.
Presidential candidates have been far too risk-averse to bite on the kind of format that risks a balance of hardballs. In every tedious cycle at the Commission on Presidential Debates, it looks like it begins by Republicans waving a white flag and welcoming another potential quadruple thumping by liberal media-elite moderators. They never insist that one of the four questioners come from Fox News, precisely because the Democrats feel about Fox the same way that conservatives have always felt about every other TV news network.
The most fraudulent debate format is the phony "town hall" Potemkin villages that are routinely slanted against the Republicans. Since 1992, the questions from "uncommitted voters" have been dramatically slanted: 34 questions from the liberal agenda to only 17 from the conservative agenda. This format cries out for change. Perhaps the "uncommitted" questioners can be selected without the moderator knowing precisely what they're going to ask.
Or consider this. Load your "town hall" audience instead with committed partisan voters and let them question the opposing candidates like Question Time in the British Parliament. At least in this format both sides would get hardball questions.
If Barack Obama is defeated on Nov. 6, he won't be able to blame this year's debate moderators. He can't blame Lehrer or Schieffer for being too bland. He can't blame the liberal media for failing to perform a daily puffball/cover-up routine. He can only blame his own sorry record of putting this country into a painful decline.