Journalists are, unsurprisingly, rallying around Martha Raddatz’s awesome performance as a moderator last night.
The general rule is that the side that loses thinks the moderator was terrible. I think Paul Ryan won the debate last night, assisted by Joe Biden’s braying jackass routine, but I think Raddatz was a terrible moderator.
Ben Domenech’s excellent Transom lays out why:
Good moderators can be active or disengaged: Lehrer was the latter, and most of the CNN cast is the former. One type essentially throws out a topic and lets the candidates duke it out according to their whim – the other tries to pry deeper, asking frequent followups to draw out answers as in an interview. But the important thing is to be consistent in your approach with both candidates. Raddatz was not. After her initial tough question about Libya to Biden, she spent the rest of the debate pressing Ryan on point after point without demanding the same specificity of Biden. She would let Biden run, allowing him to interrupt at whim, while interrupting Ryan to shift topics even within subject areas. What’s more, her apparent ignorance of domestic policy (she’s a foreign correspondent for ABC) led to a remarkable tilt toward international topics. The irony was that this ended up being a surprisingly parochial in focus, confined to the Middle East – she asked no questions about the EU, no questions about China, no questions about trade. For his part, Dan Drezner apologized on behalf of the five percent. http://vlt.tc/icp
By my tabulation, Raddatz asked more questions about foreign policy, national security, and the Defense budget than all other subjects combined. She asked one question about Medicare but mushed it together with Social Security, the upshot being that most of the answers were focused on Social Security reforms neither candidate has endorsed or even brought up on the trail. She asked, effectively, just one question about the economy – one! – while asking separate questions on Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Koran burning, DOD and the sequester. And it wasn’t for lack of time: Raddatz also found the time to ask such inane questions as “are you ever embarrassed by the tone” of negative campaign ads, and “what could you both give to this country as a man, as a human being, that no one else could?” (The proper answer, of course, is fire.) Raddatz will never be approved as a moderator again by any intelligent Republican campaign.
That lays out, better than I could, exactly why she was such an atrocious debate moderator. I think in the history of debate moderators, probably only John Harris of the Politico has done worse.
While her friends and colleagues in the media rally around her, let the record state she was, in reality, atrocious. But she had to feel right at home in the war zone that was Joe Biden’s flashing teeth.