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. Johnny

    This was the best debate ever, Hilliary and Bill can no longer attack and lie on Obama and Edwards and not expect to be answered back. She started it and Obama finished. Clearly Obama won the debate and appeared more intelligent.

    January 22, 2008 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  2. David


    The debates last night were very entertaining. Maybe the studios should hire those writers.

    January 22, 2008 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  3. Willy

    You lost the bubble at the start by letting Billary ramble on and you Wolf tired to limit the 2 men. If was fun to watch knowing they are scared of John McCain and not worried about the Unites States and National Defense makes me more to vote republican like the rest of us educated folk.

    January 22, 2008 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  4. Diana from California

    I did not care for the tenor of last night's debates because there was no real substance coming out of either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.
    I do not like Pres. Cl;inton's entering into the campaign in the manner that he has been. I think quite frankly, it's tacky. He is treating Senator Obama like one of his "old right wing adversaries" instead of a respected competior from the same party.
    My suggestion to you is as follows; I have a little dog who sometimes goes crazy and starts barking at nothing I then get out the spray bottle, fill it with water and give her a splash. You might consider this technique at the next debate?

    I think these canidates missed their opportunity to impress us. I feel short changed quie frankly.

    January 22, 2008 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  5. NW Bill

    The debate went ugly just as everyone expected. CNN asked questions that were sure to heat up the situation from a simmering boil. Obama had the right to address the negative comments said about him by Bill Clinton. CNN and other news outlets have pointed out that Bill's statements about Obama's prior votes and his comments on Regan were twisted from the actual facts. Hillary has Bill doing her dirty work and then she seems appalled that Obama is fighting back. Make no mistake about it, Hillary is going negative about Obama and Obama is fighting back. Neither camp is above the mess and if any voter makes their decision on voting based soley on this situation, then negative tactics have won out again. Let's not have another "Switf Boat" situation. Let's all demand clear representation of the issues. CNN should not have asked Obama about how he felt about Hillary's negative attacks on him as it doesn't foster an answer that helps people decide who will be the best President, only who can scrap in the school yard.

    January 22, 2008 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  6. ALVIN


    January 22, 2008 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  7. Jeff

    I think all the moderators did a great job. I just don't understand why people think Obama started this. Remember New Hampshire people? Remember Bill Clinton playing fast and loose with the facts up there regarding Obama. I'm not even decided yet, I may even vote Republican this year. But you don't have to think back too far to remember Bill and Hillary started all this with half-truths and lies about Senator Obama. If he hadn't started in on her early, then he would have shown he couldn't stand up for himself. Bill and Hillary gave him no choice. They started it in NH, have kept it up since. Meanwhile, the most presidential of all was Edwards.

    January 22, 2008 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  8. Childish?

    People claim it is childish to start slinging mud when it comes to a debate, but I beg to differ. If Kerry would have got his hands dirty a few times last election, we wouldn't be having a dem primary. Just a few draft dodging, balance busting comments from Kerry would have gone a long way to uneducated country- I'm not even a Kerry supporter by any means.
    The debate was entertaining, and also it also let me know what kind of people are up for election.
    Childish? Look at the imbacile in charge of our country now-even a child is an improvement...

    January 22, 2008 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  9. rabblerouser

    If the media didn't stir up all these misinterpretations, then the candidates wouldn't feel they had to defend themselves or point out contradictions in their opponents when they have the camera to themselves.

    Also, as a society we want to be entertained, not informed. Remember, Hollywood rules. That's why an actor makes millions a year, but a teacher, whose job is infinitely much more important makes only $35000 a year. And that's why someone as dumb as Reagan got to be president – who cared if he had a thought in his head? He was a handsome actor (some people's opinions...) and therefore he should be president on his looks and charm...

    January 22, 2008 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  10. Art

    The problem with the debate was the issues were not debated. Why can't any moderator ask tough questions and require detailed answers. Instead, the ratings game was played out watching two candidates yap with one another on things not germain to the election.....

    Come on CNN–do better.

    January 22, 2008 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  11. Linda

    This is in response to the person who thought that Obama was right on the dollar for predicting that the stock market would be down today. I'm sorry but this was not hard to predict. It made national news yesterday on every t. v. station that this would happen. I'm so surprised that this person didn't realize this before the debate. I could have predicted this and I'm not running for president. So, let's not give Obama so much credit. Go Hillary. You have my vote.

    January 22, 2008 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  12. Don

    Hillary won. No doubt

    January 22, 2008 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  13. Senhor Tambor

    I don't agree with everyone's glowing review of Wolf Blitzer. The chosen questions were largely vapid, meaningless ways of getting a foodfight started. Particularly offensive were his toadying questions like "The surge is working. So are you now going to try to end the war or win it?

    Huh? The surge is working? Winning? Is that Karl Rove in a rubber Blitzer mask?

    Further, he did everything he could to get the candidates to sink as low into the rhetorical mudbog as possible. He did everything short of saying "are you gonna let him get away with that?" And what was with the Fox-sitcom like audience? What kind of imbeciles shout "Whooooo" at political debates as if it were an episode of "Married With Children"?

    Asking Obama if Bill Clinton was the first black president?

    Asking why Martin Luther King would endorse you as a candidate?

    It was as if Bill Kristol had engineered the whole event. Sorry. Wolfie's just Tucker Carlson with a beard. You can't see his knee pads through the baggy suit pants.

    January 22, 2008 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  14. P. Jensen

    I have been watching your segment that gave Obama time to air his position on inaccuracies and misrepresentations from last night's debate. I was looking forward to hearing the response from Clinton, but to no avail. You never allowed her time to state her views. I have found over your coverage and the media at large how you keep attempting to prop Obama up continually. Long ago I saw why. You would like to see him as the democratic candidate, not because of his wonderful attrributes, but because you along with Schneider are neocons who would rather McCain run against Obama then anyone else. Who you give air time to and how you slant their positions are fodder for people who do not have time to do their own research. How Obama rose to the front of the race with his little experience is thanks to people and media as yourself. Sadly, people such as Biden, Richardson and Dodd were not given the same opportunity. Our country is not one of democracy, but one of fascism.

    January 22, 2008 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  15. Al Dyer

    Thank you Wolf for the great debate (Democratic–Jan 21 2008). It was a bit contentious at times but like the pro that you are you kept it on track. I liked your smooth delivery and control of the program when it could have easily gotten out of hand.
    Al Dyer
    Houston, Tx

    January 22, 2008 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  16. Adam

    I just watch Obama respond about the attacks on his record from the Clinton campaign and what bothers me is that CNN allows him to make statements and not fact check him.

    He stated that the Clinton campaign wants to go negative etc etc. If my memory serves me Hilliary remained on point throughout the campaigning UNTIL the Obama campaign kept calling in to question her judgement and her record on the issues.

    His campaign went negative way before hers did

    January 22, 2008 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  17. Cate Gray

    It seems to me, in reading all of the comments, that we have more than a few females commenting negatively (hatefully, really) on Hillary Clinton. There is one type of women who – no make that three types – who are down on Clinton: those who admire her but fear she canpt win, Republican's and the never-got-anywhere-in-life types who are eaten up with jealousy for a woman who did.

    The debate didn't change my mind on Obama – his easily shaken 'cool', his anger and lashing out were so apparent that my gut reaction to him was reinforced. My up-to-now favorite, Clinton, showed her amazing control and lighting fast intellect. It's why I am a regular contributer to her campaign. What was a wonderful surprise was my resurgence of admiration for John Edwards – a feeling that I had lost over the last months. In fact, I sat down and made another contribution to John Edwards last night.

    The African-Americans appear to be joining forces for Obama, which is as incomprehensible as the support they gave O.J. Simpson. And, as capable as Clinton is-and this is heartbreaking to a feminist like me to admit-there's still too much opposition to a liberal woman holding the highest office in the world...of the three, that leaves us John Edwards.

    January 22, 2008 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  18. Doug

    Hey Wolf, you did a great job, still would have liked to hear more about what the candidates thought on more issues, but next time. It was very entertaining and educational. I believe obama won the debate especially after being double teamed by Hillary , Bill and John. Also wolf, did you pay attention to when Hillary continued to cut obama off when he was speaking but when Hillary was talking, Obama gave her time to express herself. Obama actually started raising his hand like he was in school. He is polite, courteous and exactly what we need in the Whitehouse. He listens and responds to the questions. The other candidates give more rethoric. And by the way, obama didn't start the mudslinging, he was forced into the war. But at least voters can see that he has heart to go for the juggler when forced into a corner. But I guess if attacked we shouldn't respond.

    Keep up the good work Wolf, also this will be the first year I vote and I'm 34, and Obama gets it

    January 22, 2008 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  19. Ryan

    I think that Wolf did a horrible job of moderating, more so than any other debate so far. He had no control over the candidates.

    January 22, 2008 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  20. hpb

    while wolf asked obama to respond to the charge of having lawyered for a slum-lord, he did not ask hillary to speak to the issue of her serving on the board of wal-mart. i think all panel members should state the fact as soon as the candidate says something contrary to the fact. e.g. hillary said obama supported reagan policies. that is factually a lie. we would hope that a person with 35 years experience expecting to become president would after listening to the tape of obama's comments would be be able to understand the english language. is she a bill in group three ( slow students). prpbably not – just plain lies. the situation room personnel knew it, but chose not to challenge. while edwards gets the adult title in the debate but no got no questions on his record as a senator. quite a contrast to his current "its personal with me" check it out!

    January 22, 2008 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  21. Elmore Peters, cambridge,

    Barack seems a lot less tainted and cynical by his shorter time in politics, that's actually a strength, not a weakness. He will be able to make better decisions because of this.

    January 22, 2008 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  22. RP

    A debate with smoke screen and blame shuffling politics from Clinton and Obama. It would seem that maybe the American voter is tired of this type of in fighting. Is this the type of bipartisanship that the American people are looking for from their President? Candiates that can’t get along amoung themselves, do they truly expect to address the important issues facing this country?

    January 22, 2008 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  23. Joe

    I think it's terrible how the media gets away with not allowing all candidates to speak on every issue and given the same amount of time. There were several instances in last night's debate where J Edwards had to insist on his time and/or a response and you still catered to Hillary and Obama before recognizing Edwards. There are alot of us that would truly like to hear what Edwards has to say whether the media wants us to or not. There are alot of us that are tired of only hearing about Hillary and Obama. Some of us would like the opportunity to see if we have other options. We all know that the more media a candidate gets, the more popular they become. I think it's a sin that in the end, because of the media's bias attention to their favorites, it leaves the nation with only the media's picks to vote for. The only reason Hillary and Obama are the front runners is because there is no media attention for anyone else. This should not be the year for a popularity contest !! I would love to see history be made but only if it's being made due to honest and fair coverage, giving the people the right to hear all candidates views.

    January 22, 2008 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  24. Jim Nierle

    Your job is not to restrain interaction among candidates. That interaction is the essence of debates. The conduct of the candidates is their own responsibility. If they cannot maintain a civil tone with each other, that is not your fault.

    January 22, 2008 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  25. Mike

    I'm glad the candidates had the opportunity to speak, and speak freely. I've grown tired of distorted facts and those who have long continued to use them as a tool to divide us. Wolf did a great job, thank you. As a result, I was so clear on who to vote for that I did so today – I cast my ballot by taking advantage of early voting in my state. And I cast that ballot in hopes we can begin to rid our government of folks who purposely distort facts, who have been in Washington way too long. No repeats please. Thank you.

    January 22, 2008 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
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