Even as partisans and political observers continue to skirmish over which candidate won the first Presidential debate of 2012, most on either side of the political spectrum seem to agree on one thing:
PBS' Jim Lehrer, the veteran journalist tasked with moderating between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, "lost" the debate.
Lehrer, many observers have remarked, seemed to lose control of the two candidates, and by his own admission he allowed their responses to run over the allotted time so frequently that one entire section of questions - a "pod" as Lehrer put it - had to be dropped from the debate.
In Lehrer's defense, it is not clear how much he could have done to more vigorously enforce the time constraints.
Short of cutting off the microphone to either candidate -if he even had the ability to do so - Lehrer had limited ability to enforce the time restrictions. So it is not surprising that he chose not to risk trying to talk over either the President or the Republican nominee to keep the debate on track.
Others have faulted Lehrer for failing to follow up on questions asking for specifics and for not pressing the issue when either candidate attempted a rhetorical dodge.
But had Lehrer tried to do that, he would have risked making the debate more about him than the candidates facing the American people. Such an approach would seem more fitting for an interviewer facing a single candidate than a moderator refereeing the interaction between the two.
Indeed, by staying largely out of the way, Lehrer allowed viewers of Wednesday's debate to see something rare - a largely unfiltered interaction between the two men vying for the highest office in the land.
Rather than miniature, two-minute speeches and thirty-second sound bite responses, Wednesday's debate offered a less scripted view of Obama and Romney and Lehrer left it to the candidates to challenge each other's statements (neither, it should be noted, seemed particularly shy about doing so).
Few observers would likely go as far as to echo Obama's statement that Lehrer had "done a great job." In fact, many on Twitter swiftly branded that statement with the "pants on fire" label that the non-partisan fact checking organization Politifact reserves for the most outrageous campaign distortions and outright falsehoods.
But there is much to be said in favor of the minimalist moderation model that Lehrer employed.
by RTT Staff Writer
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