Moderator Role Under Scrutiny – Before the Debate
By Mark Halperin, Time
October 14, 2012
In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of this Tuesday’s town hall has publicly described her role, TIME has learned.
In the view of the two campaigns and the commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the campaigns agreed to, which delineates a more limited role for the debate moderator.
According to the debate-format language in the agreement, after each audience question and two-minute responses from the candidates, Obama and Romney are expected to have an additional discussion facilitated by Crowley. Yet her participation is meant to be limited. As stated in the document, “In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic … 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 two-minute response period.” The memo, which has been obtained by TIME, was signed by lawyers for the two campaigns on Oct. 3, the day of the first presidential debate in Denver.
Crowley seems unfazed by the behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Even after concerns were raised in the wake of the Malveaux interview, Crowley made additional comments that make clear she does not feel bound by any agreement between the commission and the Obama and Romney camps. On Oct. 11, the day of the vice-presidential debate, she told Wolf Blitzer, “I’m always interested in the questions because you don’t want to – in a debate, you don’t want to go over plowed ground. Now, this is the vice-presidential candidates as opposed to the presidential candidates. So is there room there to come back to a presidential candidate and say, Well, your vice-presidential candidate said this? I’m always kind of looking for the next question … So there’s opportunity for follow-up to kind of get them to drill down on the subjects that these folks want to learn about in the town hall.”
Sources say both campaigns are preparing their candidates for the debate under the assumption that Crowley might play a bigger role than either they or the commission want. At the same time, some officials familiar with the deliberations of the campaigns say they hope that by publicizing the expectations for the moderator’s role in the town hall and making public the language in the memo, Crowley will be less likely to overstep their interpretation of her role. One key source expressed confidence on Sunday afternoon that, despite Crowley’s remarks on CNN, the moderator would perform on Tuesday night according to the rules agreed to by the two campaigns.
The lame rules for presidential debates: a perfect microcosm of US democracy
Tuesday 16 October 2012 16.03 EDT
The way the two major parties control the presidential debates is a perfect microcosm of how political debates are restricted in general. Though typically shrouded in secrecy, several facts about this process have recently come to light and they are quite instructive.
Under this elaborate regime, the candidates “aren’t permitted to ask each other questions, propose pledges to each other, or walk outside a ‘predesignated area.'” Worse, “the audience members posing questions aren’t allowed to ask follow-ups (their mics will be cut off as soon as they get their questions out). Nor will moderator Candy Crowley.” The rules even “forbid television coverage from showing reaction shots of the candidates”.
Here then, within this one process of structuring the presidential debates, we have every active ingredient that typically defines, and degrades, US democracy. The two parties collude in secret. The have the same interests and goals. Everything is done to ensure that the political process is completely scripted and devoid of any spontaneity or reality.
All views that reside outside the narrow confines of the two parties are rigidly excluded. Anyone who might challenge or subvert the two-party duopoly is rendered invisible.
Lobbyists who enrich themselves by peddling their influence run everything behind the scenes. Corporations pay for the process, which they exploit and is then run to bolster rather than threaten their interests. The media’s role is to keep the discourse as restrictive and unthreatening as possible while peddling the delusion that it’s all vibrant and free and independent and unrestrained. And it all ends up distorting political realities far more than illuminating them while wildly exaggerating the choices available to citizens and concealing the similarities between the two parties.
To understand the US political process, one can just look to how these sham debates are organized and how they function. This is the same process that repeats itself endlessly in virtually every other political realm.
Leaked 2012 Presidential Debates Contract: Few Critical Points Worth Raising
By: Kevin Gosztola, Firedog Lake
Monday October 15, 2012 8:25 pm
It is what should be expected from candidates from the two most prominent political parties in America, which wrested control of the debates from the League of Women Voters back in the 1980s. The two parties launched the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which has conducted itself like the corrupt organization it was destined to become by working to exclude third party candidates, debate moderators and key issues/topics for decades now.
The contract shows no one is to “issue any challenges for additional debates” or “appear at any other debate or adversarial forums except as agreed to by the parties.” They are also not to “accept any television or radio air time offers that involve a debate format or otherwise involve the simultaneous appearance of more than one candidate.” What this means is that when news programs like “Democracy Now!” or HuffPost Live hold debates or CNN host Don Lemon hosts does a segment where third party candidates are invited, neither Obama nor Romney can participate because of this agreement. They also cannot accept invitations from the NAACP to participate in forums or groups like Free and Equal, which is committed to openness and fairness in elections. The two campaigns agree to close off debate and limit democracy in the election.
If candidates outside of Obama or Romney are “invited to participate,” they must sign the secret contract and agree to these terms. Should they refuse, they cannot be part of the debate. Someone like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson or Green Party candidate Jill Stein might get a bump and have enough support in a poll to be in a debate but, if they refuse to cooperate with a organization with such a shady history, they will not get to go before an audience and share their platform.
For the town hall debate, the contract instructs the moderator to go through a cumbersome process of approving audience questions prior to the debate for the benefit of the candidates, who would not want to be caught off guard by a question the carefully selected media personality had not finessed and sanitized for public consumption.
There are also to be no cut-aways to candidates not answering a question or not giving a closing statement. This is why candidates are shown in a split-screen on television. That is not prohibited in the agreement and is also not a cut-away. In any case, the campaigns mean to limit viewers’ ability to react to body language.
There is nothing in the “leaked” secret contract on third party candidates, beyond the note that additional qualified candidates must sign the CPD agreement. The selection criteria, however, is posted on the CPD website. It makes clear a candidate must be “constitutionally eligible, “appear on enough state ballots to have at least a mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2012 general election” and have a level of support of at least 15% “of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.”
The selection criteria is why Johnson took the step of filing an antitrust lawsuit against the CPD. According to the Los Angeles Times, the suit argues the Republican and Democratic national committees engaged in a conspiracy by meeting and creating rules for the debates in secret, which exclude third-party candidates. It also alleges they participated in a “restraint of trade” that violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. (The challenge is different from a challenge brought by Ralph Nader that argued the CPD was violating the Federal Election Campaign Act by endorsing, supporting or opposing political candidates or political parties.)
Tomorrow, during the second presidential debate, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson will not be on stage. A functioning democratic society would not tolerate a political process where these individuals were not treated fairly. At minimum, each general election cycle would begin with a debate with all candidates that were on enough state ballots to assume the presidency and were registering a percentage of support in national polls. That would typically be four to six people and not unreasonable.
Regardless of whether the rigged system makes it possible for them to win or not, they should not be excluded. Secret contracts have no place in any society claiming to have fair elections. And, the CPD-which is a symptom of the bipartisan racket that is US elections-should be dissolved. It does not encourage open, free and fair politics but rather exists to protect the status quo or current order that benefits the richest one percent and the guardians of the national security state.
*Tune into “Democracy Now!” as they expand the debate Wednesday morning after the second presidential debate with Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson and Virgil Goode, who will answer questions they should have been asked personally the previous night.
This is an Open Thread.