January 22nd, 2008
04:25 PM ET
10 years ago

Blitzer: I disagree with debate critics

A shrinking field gave candidates more time to attack.

A shrinking field gave candidates more time to attack.

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina (CNN) - The Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina has now come and gone. I must say I was pretty surprised: I knew there would be some fireworks, but I didn’t think it would become as rancorous as it did.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama came out swinging, and it was intense. They clearly had their zingers ready to go, and they let loose. It didn’t really matter what our questions were - whether on jobs, the economy, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, or health care - they were intent on hammering their rivals for the Democratic nomination.

This was the fourth presidential debate I have moderated during this election season. I hosted a Republican and Democratic debate back in June in New Hampshire, and a Democratic debate in November in Las Vegas. All three were much more subdued.

The shrinking field may be partly responsible for the new combative tone. When there are eight candidates fighting for time, it's tough for the candidates to go after each other. It's a lot easier when there are only three of them left standing.

Another factor: as the contest gets into the final rounds, the stakes become ever higher.

I made a deliberate decision last night to try to speak as little as possible. This was a debate, and I wanted the candidates to debate the issues, and let them go back and forth - much easier to do now that there are just three candidates left, as opposed to nearly three times as many.

During those early debates, some criticized me for interfering too much - either by interrupting the candidates and forcing them to wrap up their thoughts, or by moving on to the next question too quickly. “Why didn’t you just let them debate?” some of my critics asked. Following this most recent debate, some of my critics complained that I didn’t adequately control the two-hour session.

I certainly understand both criticisms. But I don’t agree with them.

As riveting as the back-and-forth might be, it wasn't the point of the event: I hope the people watching Monday night came away from this debate in South Carolina with a better understanding where the candidates stand on key issues.

–CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer

Filed under: Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (492 Responses)
  1. G. Ellis

    Great job Wolf!! You let them debate. Keep up the good work and give the same format to the Republicans. I learned a lot Monday night.

    Thank you and your CNN Team. Great Job. CNN is #1 in my book.

    Watching Lou Dobbs has helped me to open my eyes and see what is going on in Washington. Let's hold them all accountable.

    Keep up the good work !!!

    G. Ellis

    January 23, 2008 08:10 am at 8:10 am |
  2. John

    Senator Obama showed when the heats on he has trouble sounding Presidential. He didn't give any clear answers and never got to the point. He really wasn't very good. But CNN spins it like he won the debate. Hillary gave an answer about about immigration a while back in a debate and it played over and over again and again claiming how bad see screwed up. (It really wasn't that bad an answer). Why was Joe Biden ripped apart when he said Obama was clean curt, articulate etc. but the Senator can refer to President Clinton's dancing ability is good enough to be a "Brother" CNN or not Hillary is by far the best Candidate and Edward pretty good too.

    January 23, 2008 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  3. Anthony

    Sad state of affairs when debates, politics in general, have become so frivolous that we find it entertaining for its "action", adolescent behavior, and rumors rather than its policy debates and the exchanging of ideas.

    January 23, 2008 09:52 am at 9:52 am |
  4. Southern Gal

    I am proud of how CNN handled the latest democratic debate.

    It's a debate people. That means hearing from the candidates with "format control" from the moderator. I especially liked the fact that as long as each candidate stayed on task with the question, they were not given a timeframe in which to answer.

    It was a good debate because it finally let us see the candidates for who they are, and what they are or aren't discussing. Debates are supposed to get viewers thinking and generate good discussion

    I look forward to more.

    January 23, 2008 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  5. Davis

    problem was, Wolf, that they weren't sticking to issues but to the "zingers". that's the problem. we want to hear the issues debated and get some answers, not hear two grown people act like middle-schoolers. Edwards ended up looking a lot more presidential after this one. too bad it looks like he doesn't have a shot.

    January 23, 2008 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  6. Jones in Sacramento

    Mr. Blitzer:

    I don't know if you had anything to do with the format of the debate but personally I didn't think that it was the best format. Each candidate did not get a chance to answer on the same question and when it seemed to get personal between Senators Clinton and Obama I thought you should have put them back on track. As for the questions to Senator Obama about whether Bill Clinton was the first black president–that could have just been left alone -no he was not!

    Sacramento, CA

    January 23, 2008 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  7. hp

    Mr. Obama claimed to be a uniter??? Is he? He can not even unite his own party.
    – We're color blind. Stop telling us your 'true" color.
    -We're color blind but we're not deaf. Stop shouting but if you do, we need to hear real issue, real solution.
    -We're color blind but we're not brainless. Stop defend yourself. We need a leader defending us.
    After all, you're no different than them (the politics). You're just ONE of them.

    January 23, 2008 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  8. A.L. from Georgia

    I thought it was useful to see this sort of debate. It provided us with a view to how Clinton and Obama deal with difficult situations, and so I think Wolf was right to let them mainly fight it out.

    My impression ever since Obama upset Clinton in Iowa is that both Clintons have been stretching what opposition research they have on Obama to generate some negative press on Obama. They are correct that the media has been somewhat in love with Obama, but I actually think that reflects what is happening in the public as well. He attracts huge crowds. His speeches give you goosebumps.

    While I respect Clinton as a politically experienced person, I do not believe she has any more executive-style experience than does Obama. She seems pretty strong and knowledgeable, both good qualities. But she can be so shrill and petty (I found her Rekzo remark truly ugly, as did the audience; Obama landed a punch that spoke to the offshoring issue; she just swung back with mud). She seems so rehearsed and measured to tell us whatever may be politically expedient at the time. Her vote to authorize war with Iraq is the epitome of this need to occupy the popular political space of the moment. Politicians always have to make some compromises; but I, as a lay person at the time, could plainly see we were being railroaded into a war of choice. And I didn't have access to the weak intelligence estimate that Clinton did (and didn't read).

    I think Clinton's proximity to a former president would certainly be useful in hitting the ground running, but it also brings with it the baggage we all just want to forget. That doesn't mean the Clinton years were not prosperous, in part due to the Clinton administration and Congress, but they were also years of extreme demoralization in the institution of the president (as have been the Bush 43 years as well). While I agree it is a roll of the dice to bring in some fresh leadership, it's no bigger a risk than to bounce the presidency between two families for three decades. Electing Obama would be a healthy way for this country to press the "reset" button, not only from a domestic politics perspective, but in the eyes of the rest of the world.

    If Clinton is the nominee, I will vote for her, because I have been waiting for Democratic leadership since Bush took office. But I do not think Clinton is capable of drawing out independents, reticent Democrats or moderate Republicans, no matter who the Republican nominee is. As the primary turn out shows so far, Obama is the candidate who CAN do and has done that. And for any Democrat to manage addressing looming crises in healthcare and social security, they are going to need a mandate, not a razor thin margin.

    More than anything else, Barack Obama makes a great many Americans feel good again about where this country could go. He inspires hope not because he repeats it as his message, but because he embodies it.

    January 23, 2008 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  9. Mikayla

    Isn't it fascinating how everyone here watched the same debate, yet viewed it so differently.

    I have been a supporter of Obama from the beginning (because I feel this country needs someone who can work side by side with Dem's and Repub's) and my boyfriend has been a Clinton fan since the 90's. After watching the Myrtle Beach Debates he is considering voting for Obama for President instead of Hillary.

    The Clinton's are the one's playing with words and starting the political mudslinging. They started it way before Obama made the "factual statement" that Hillary has been connected to big business for quite some time (Walmart).

    It's sad I used to like her before she decided to run for President.

    January 23, 2008 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  10. Allen Bachelder

    "Moderate" ..."make or become less violent or excessive". A moderator is one who makes things become less violent or excessive. There was NO moderator for the recent Democratic debates. Wolf Blitzer knew that the debate was going to get hot and he chose to abandon his job in order to maximize the spin. His interests were clearly commercial.

    This is tawdry journalism at its worst. The consequences of this confrontation may dash the hopes and aspirations of generations for decades to come. This is inexcusably irresponsible behavior. In any serious debate, failure to establish and ENFORCE rules of civil discourse will force participants to the lowest level of confrontation. We certainly hope to see some MODERATION in future debates.

    ' Guess this is fun for the media; who cares if it's a disaster for the country. ' Think we'll stick to NPR and PBS in the future.

    Florrie and Allen Bachelder

    January 23, 2008 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  11. Anonymous


    It bothers me that gloria bolger is so anti-clinton. after iowa, and before new hampshire, she was really laying it on. even now it continues, can you ask her to be fair and balanced. i will vote for which ever democrat that wins the nomination.

    January 23, 2008 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  12. Chip Shirley


    January 23, 2008 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  13. Mrs. America

    To Lee and others whose posts get zapped.

    Seems that intelligent, well thought out posts get zapped and half-illiterate ones that just whine don't. I don't think CNN wants the competition of smart people. CNN has zapped quite a few of my posts too, to the point that I'm not going to waste my time on these blogs anymore.

    Now watch them post this stupid comment.

    January 23, 2008 09:28 pm at 9:28 pm |
  14. Addie of Ohio

    Hooray for Bill Clinton!! I was in the middle writing a letter to you when his face came on the TV screen, yelling at Jessica Yellin [ yellin' @ Yellin , hah ] about the media not really caring about what is going on but only in what they want to report.
    This is just the point on which I had started writing.
    It aggravates me no end, that the media, especially CNN, is giving Obama a free ride when it comes to his charges against the Clintons and giving him free press time when he wants to claim that the Clintons are telling lies about him. Do you give the Clintons equal time to defend themselves? Not, at all! This is a 1 way track and not at all the way a news channel should work.
    I am not expecting to vote for Hillary so this is not from an angry supporter of hers.
    I was, in fact, thinking of voting for Obama but that all changed when I awoke from a spell put on me by some of Obama's orations. I awoke to realize that there was no subsance, no truth to a lot of what Obama says.
    Did you know that Obama had made a tape declaring that Hillary was to blame for Bhutto's death? Did you know that Tim Russert asked Obama about this statement, asking Obama if he believed it to be true? Laughingly, Obama replied, " Of course not!" When Hillary went on Russert's show about a week or two later, Hillary mentioned to Russert that she had never received an apology from Obama.' He did not apologize for other statements made about her, either .
    Neither did he apologize for words of his supporters who denegrated the Clintons. Neither has he apologized or made reference to a speech made by his pastor about the Clintons and about Jews, the Zionists, to be exact. I am surprised that you, as a religious man, have ignored this statement which, I as a Jew, find insulting and an absolute lie. Or, do you, as Obama seems to, believe that the Zionists have pushed racism? He made no retraction nor apology.
    Do you suppose that if you were to contest this statement that Obama would accuse you of being racist because you are denying his words?
    He is a master of playing the victim when, in fact, he baits people into attacking him for those words and then screaming, racist!. Or, as with his comment about Reagan, when put on the carpet for saying something unseemly, he says, } "the words were misunderstood". How many times have you heard that from him? For such an eloquent speaker, why are so many of his statements "misunderstood"?
    Have you checked the facts of the Clintons accusations against Obama? I believe that you will find them to be true. Obama has yet to give proof that they are lying. It was Obama who shouted, "racist" as soon as they questioned his voting record in Congress. That is a good word to stop anyone from interfering. I am sure that they , as experienced politicians, are too smart to make false statements.
    I have a lot more to say about Obama and his actions but I can leave that for another day.I will end this with a request. If you have Obama on the show, railing against the Clintons, let the Clintons have equal time to give their side, and vice versa. Being one sided does not suit you , nor the station. For years I have watched CNN and I thought that it was above reproach. That is no longer my belief. I am looking for a station to replace you but, so far, I have not found one to my liking. The day may come that I will be happy with a station. I am, however, much more discerning in what I look for in a news station. I hope that by that time, you will have changed your ways and I may continue to sit in your Situation Room.

    January 23, 2008 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  15. Kathleen in Iowa

    To Gideon: Please read Obama's website to get complete details on all his policies (including how the programs are paid for) Did he not say the market would drop the next day based on his analysis of market activities that day? Believe me, he is a smart man with detailed policy statements. I'm afraid you may be believing the Clinton campaign misrepresentations about Obama. Please investigate for yourself his policy proposals, his voting record compared to Clinton's...I think you will be pleasantly surprised. I would highly recommend his book , Audacity of Hope, for undecided voters who have any questions about his values, integrity and hopes for America. Also, Carl Bernstein's biography of Hillary is of interest , A Woman in Charge (no doubt she's capable; but I don't like the dirty tricks tactics or the corporate money behind her campaingn) . Mr. Bernstein also discusses Hillary's difficulty with telling the truth. (and we all know Bill has that problem!) I think it's time for an honest campaingn and a leader who can unite us as a country. To me, Hillary is devisive & polarizing. I don't believe she can unite us or could win in the fall.
    Thank you!

    January 24, 2008 01:19 am at 1:19 am |
  16. BOB


    January 30, 2008 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  17. Ashraf Elsayed

    I have respect for you and watch your show regularly. I can't understand John McCain when he said he would not surender to the enemy referring to the democrats about withdrawing the troops from Iraq. didn't McCain have to surender before when he became the most famous war prsinor in the American History. Thanks.

    February 4, 2008 12:15 am at 12:15 am |
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