Former debate moderator (and liberal journalist) Carole Simpson has been making the media rounds before Tuesday's presidential debate, giving President Obama the edge and implying that the standards for debate moderators are sexist. She continued that on Tuesday's Starting Point.
She gave Obama the town hall-style debate advantage as a "people person" and "touchy-feely." In contrast, she cited criticism of Romney "that he doesn't relate to ordinary people."
"Who do you think gets the advantage in a town hall debate?" asked anchor Soledad O'Brien. "I think it's a people person. And I think that's – that's President Obama," answered Simpson.
"He was a community organizer. He's used to dealing with people. He's comfortable with them. He's a touchy-feely person. He's not afraid to touch people, and it looks genuine," she gushed. "I think tonight, Obama has the advantage in that I think he'll be warmer and, you know, closer to the people."
"And I watched Romney campaign in Iowa, and he tries to do it, but that's been a criticism of his that he doesn't relate to ordinary people," she dumped on Romney.
Of course, Simpson laughed at Romney and mocked his lack of humor before the last debate, and she ended up eating her own words as she admitted Obama was "somnolent" in that performance.
Later on Monday's Starting Point, she complained that standards for debate moderators seem sexist. "I don't want to think it's sexism, but it sure does seem like it. That women are only given the vice presidential debate and given the town hall meeting, where basically we hold the microphone for other people to ask questions," she lamented. Of course, moderators should be mostly seen and not heard, as referees in the debate. Is she pushing for activism from debate moderators?
A transcript of the segment, which aired on October 16 on Starting Point at 7:17 a.m. EDT, is as follows:
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Different format. We were talking about this just a moment ago. Who do you think gets the advantage in a town hall debate?
CAROLE SIMPSON: I think it's a people person. And I think that's – that's President Obama. He was a community organizer. He's used to dealing with people. He's comfortable with them. He's a touchy-feely person. He's not afraid to touch people, and it looks genuine. And I watched Romney campaign in Iowa, and he tries to do it, but that's been a criticism of his that he doesn't relate to ordinary people. So I think tonight, Obama has the advantage in that I think he'll be warmer and, you know, closer to the people.
BERMAN: Carole, it's John Berman here. How are you doing? A lot of people say it's not a warmer President Obama they want to see, it is a more aggressive President Obama they want to see. So how do you handle that in a town meeting-style debate? How do you turn from a voter question, how do you turn that into an attack on Mitt Romney if you're President Obama?
SIMPSON: Well, it's tough. Because when I did my debate, I asked the audience, you know, what do you want to hear from these people? I don't want to know your questions, but what is it that you want to hear? And they said they were tired of the mudslinging. They didn't like the negativity. And if you go in to the debate with a plan to attack, as Obama probably needs to do, to attack Mr. Romney, the public isn't going to like that. And I don't think they're going to risk turning off that audience.
O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about what Candy Crowley said last night on Anderson [sic]. She was talking specifically about the ability of the person who's moderating the debate to push or follow up. Listen.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN chief political correspondent: After the question is answered, there is this time that there will be a, quote, "facilitated discussion." You know, follow-up questions where you go I didn't totally understand that. Do you mean this or that? Or you know, whatever it happens to be. So you know, what you want to do is flesh things out as much as you can without staying on the same question for 40 minutes, because, you know, nobody wants that. Not the presidential candidates and certainly not the town hall folks, nor do I think the viewers.
(End Video Clip)
O'BRIEN: The moderator's job, of course, is to keep things from veering completely off the rails. Is that hard, I mean having done this in a town hall format, is that – is that extra difficult in this kind of format?
SIMPSON: Well, she has different marching orders than I had. I was told only to follow up if the question was not understandable, if it needed clarification. My own audience was able to follow up and I don't think her audience can follow up. I think she gets the follow-up chances. So there's -- there are different guidelines for her as was given me.
And so, I think it's going to be tough, though, for her to interject herself. I mean, this is the people's – this is the people's debate. And the role of the moderator, as I saw myself, was to operate in the public interest, to make sure that their questions were being asked, not what I wanted asked, although there were plenty.
O'BRIEN: So then let me jump in and ask you this question before we let you go. You've been critical. You say that, you know, women are having the opportunity to, in the presidential format, only do the debate where they really don't get to ask any of the questions. Why is that, do you think?
SIMPSON: I don't want to think it's sexism, but it sure does seem like it. That women are only given the vice presidential debate and given the town hall meeting, where basically we hold the microphone for other people to ask questions. Yet Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer got to go one-on-one with the candidates and ask their own questions. So it looks like women have been pigeon-holed into the women slot, which is not the big slot, which I think is one-on-one with the candidates.
O'BRIEN: Well, maybe that will change down the road.