With less than 48 hours to go before Tuesday's presidential debate, the moderator's role is being questioned because of things Candy Crowley has said on CNN.
Time's Mark Halperin reported late Sunday:
While an early October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns and the bipartisan commission sponsoring the debates suggests CNN‘s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about x, y, z?’”
In the view of both campaigns and the Commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the two campaigns agreed to which delineates a more limited role for the moderator of the town hall debate. The questioning of the two candidates is supposed to be driven by the audience members themselves — likely voters selected by the Gallup Organization. Crowley’s assignment differs from those of the three other debate moderators, who in the more standard format are supposed to lead the questioning and follow up when appropriate. [...]
According to the town hall format language in the agreement, after each audience question and both 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 otherwise limited. As stated by the commission: “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 2 minute response period.”
According to Halperin, Crowley may never have agreed to these terms and may not feel bound by them.
Something not included in the Time piece was a conversation Crowley had with Howard Kurtz on Reliable Sources Sunday:
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: In terms of your preparation, are you buried in blue cards, have you been up late making all kinds of notes?
CANDY CROWLEY: I have them in every place in my house. Because the truth is that I will need probably 1 percent of what's going in here. But it has to be the right 1 percent. So you have got to get 100 percent and hope -- things are going to slip past you no matter what.
I think I've accepted, like there will always be something -- and I bet you do this too. There's never a show that goes by, there is never a piece that I write that I don't look back at it later and say, I should have done this.
KURTZ: Or I could have jumped in here, but you don't want to jump in so much that you interrupt the flow of the candidates. It's not a show. It's a presidential debate, and this one of course is going to have the town hall format, so questions from the audience. Does that make your job more challenging in a way, because you have to think about do you follow up if somebody gives an evasive answer to the nice lady from Long Island?
CROWLEY: Absolutely. And look, I think in some ways it's both. I think that it's very easy for politicians to run over a member of the news media. There's no penalty for that.
It's very difficult if I go, but Mr. President, she asked about oranges and you answered with apples. So I wonder if you could answer her question. That's harder, I think.
And yes, with follow-up. I think you go, you know, you either drill down more on the subject or say, that wasn't really this or that. So I think it helps him that way. It gives you like a posse in some ways, and it's not just you. It doesn't feel like it's just a member of the media. These are actual voters, but I also think there are just more moving parts, and any time I'm not in control, you know, that to me feels like a more difficult situation.
KURTZ: But briefly, you'll know in advance what these audience members are going to ask?
CROWLEY: Yes, yes. Yes. So we'll have seen the questions. We'll have selected, which ones we think will push it toward some new information, sort of expanding out other subjects that they've touched.
It sure doesn't seem like Crowley has any intention to stick to the format agreed upon by both campaigns.
So what does this all mean for Tuesday? According to Halperin:
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 or envision. At the same time, some officials familiar with the deliberations of the campaigns say they hope that by publicizing the expectations for what the moderator should do in the town hall session, and making public the language in the MOU, Crowley will be less likely to overstep their interpretation of her role. One key source Sunday afternoon expressed confidence that, despite Crowley’s remarks on CNN, the moderator would perform on Tuesday night according to the rules agreed to by the two campaigns.
As the late Ed Hart used to say, we will know in the fullness of time.