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. Arleen Benson

    Finally a real debate. The dems are no different than the other guys... Jeffry Tubin said it best... ' this is politics! By August everyone will kiss and make up...'

    January 22, 2008 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
  2. James Izzard

    Mr. Blitzer has been the major instigator in the anti-Clinton movement. He, like Chris Matthews is obsesessed with them. Just look at Media Matters and get the truth about Mr. Blitzer and the reasons behind his support of Obama.

    When a debate gets that out of hand, one can only blame the moderator.
    That is what a moderator does....MODERATE.

    January 22, 2008 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  3. Mary

    This was a great debate. Instead of hearing or listening or reading about the campaigns acquisitions against each other, this forum allowed candidates to explain the issues for themselves...and allowed the American public to make a decision for themselves.

    We can consider some of the debate content "bickering" but since these issues are constantly on the news/media, hopefully the debate put these issues to rest once and for all since the response came directly from the candidates.

    It believe that the debate showed Obamas inconsistency on his stance on key issues and showed his inexperience on key issues that are important to the American public.

    January 22, 2008 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  4. Go H

    Sorry, I forgot to say I like Nash's line "Watch the actions compared to words!", which I guess should be the topic Media is focusing on, that will help America and will bless America, not race or gender. Please!

    January 22, 2008 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  5. lumax

    I think it's sad that the news channels make a bigger deal out of childish bickering than discussion of the core issues that are supposed to be the real focus of the presidential debates. Maybe I'm wrong but wasn't John Edwards the only one who really stuck to those issues and hasn't he received the least amount of press coverage (except 4 Dennis Kucinich who has been excluded)? I would hope that the press is not trying to force a choice by giving impartial coverage.

    January 22, 2008 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  6. Bryan

    The second half of the debate was more civil and more constructive than the first, to be honest. Maybe the candidates were just tired of bickering, or maybe the casual setting brought some more civility to the discussion. In either case, the second half was more interesting than the first. I don't know who I would pick as the winner of the debate, but it did not sway me from my increasingly solid choice.

    January 22, 2008 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  7. mike

    Overall, I have to say CNN is as 'fair and balanced' or more than any news service in how they approach these issues politically. I hear Republicans and Democrats complaining that CNN's coverage is slanted the other way.

    Just before this debate, Lou Dobbs commented that the media doesn't ask the tough questions during the debates. The big issue he brought up to Mr. Blitzer was how should IMMIGRATION be handled (especially illegal). This is not discussed in especially Democrat debates.

    Wolf, this was your chance!

    It would be nice to hear if Lou Dobb's was also dissappointed this was not brought up. Lou and Wolf, I believe CNN has another chance coming up in the near future. I like Wolf as a moderator, but it might be nice to see Lou go after the candidates in a debate.

    January 22, 2008 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  8. Gretchen Godfrey

    Normally I can't stand listening to you and your repetitive commentary. Last night was good. The candidates talked and you shut up. The long campaign time is allowing people to see how superficial and vacuous Obama really is. If a speech is not prepared, as a sermon, he can't talk. In fact, he really can't discuss issues, he only distracts to hype an audience. When he gets audience feedback, he goes into one of his prepared mini-sermons. I won't vote for hope or a preacher of hope and hype. I vote for possibility, prospects, preparedness. Obama is arrogant and unqualified. He's of the opinion that he is the new MLK. It may be time for a Black president; it is not time for Obama.

    January 22, 2008 09:42 pm at 9:42 pm |
  9. Jenny, Worcester MA

    Wolf, your minimal interference was wonderfully refreshing.
    however, many of the questions selected and asked were total waste of precious time and great diservice to the nation. drop the sensationalism and get on with the substance!!!

    January 22, 2008 09:45 pm at 9:45 pm |
  10. Dwayne, Pa

    I think it was time for Senator Obama to confront the tactics of the Clinton campaign, get it out in the open, discuss it, and now move on.
    Everyone says they don't want to hear about the petty bickering between the top two candidates. Yet, whenever you read a blog, that is all anyone talks about.
    Senator Obama, go back to pushing your message of change and unity.
    Senator Clinton, go back to talking about your 35 years of doing whatever you did for 35 years.
    John Edwards, instead of constantly bringing up the 200,000 veterans sleeping under a bridge every night, take time off the campaign (since your not going to win) and take a chunk of your millions, and give them a place to sleep tonight!

    January 22, 2008 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  11. Jack Long Beach

    Narcissism is what journalists are all about, especially TV journalsts. And Wolf Blitzer's narcissism is no exception. I have never seen Blitzer when he wasn't trying to play the star of the show, with his subject in a supporting role. Of course the criticsare right to say he "interfered" too much in the debate. After all, it wasn't Clinton's or Obama's show, it was Blitzer's! He wasn;t the moderator, he was the ringmaster. Wolf Blitzer is a major contributor to the cheapening of politics.

    January 22, 2008 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  12. Sam

    Debates are had for a reason – so the candidates can convince the public of their arguments and there is no doubt that the media plays a role in how these debates are perceived. I think a point worth making is that it is still up to individual voters to do the necessary research on each candidate in order to really grasp their positions on important issues. Didn't your mom tell you that "you can't believe everything you hear?" Debates like this one give way to too much slander and finger pointing. Really, let's all be intelligent and responsible enough find the real "winner" among the candidates, and not just accept who we are told may or may not have been the "winner" in this debate.

    January 22, 2008 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  13. Ray d

    RAY D,

    January 22, 2008 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  14. Drew in Arkansas

    It's good to see Hillary use those hated Republican tactics to pull this campaign into the gutter in order to win the nomination. Thanks Hillary. I can't believe she could win the nomination. Have Democrats learned nothing from Gore and Kerry? I may actually vote McCain.

    January 22, 2008 09:53 pm at 9:53 pm |
  15. Christopher C.

    I thought Mr. Blizter's moderating struck an excellent balance between too much and not enough involvement. The horrid part of the debate were the *pointless* questions. Why spend valuable debate time asking if Bill Clinton was the first "black" president? That was completely worthless, pandering, and a waste of everyone's time. Please keep the questions serious and substantiative.

    January 22, 2008 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  16. william

    Business leaders like Mitt Romney are still one of those "business" people who are constantly looking for larger and larger profits. Most bang for a buck employers often don't care how they keep it down for more profits. Some of them Welcome illegal immigrants to maximize profits in labor, not necessarily to survive.

    January 22, 2008 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  17. Enough said.


    You did a great job.

    I will always be a big fan of Wolf Blitzer

    January 22, 2008 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  18. ghana humber

    from what i gather obama should have been a good lil boy and let miss hillary say what ever she wants whether its true or not .no the days of the bowing your head yes a boss days are long long past . obama had every right to jump on her about her lying husband (who we all still do love) . that shows strength to me to stand up for your self and what true . how did hillary show strength she used the female tear job to gain sympathy for getting her butt kicked in iowa ,what if obama had choked up , he would have been mr. girlieman.

    January 22, 2008 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  19. Tom H.

    I think you did an outstanding job. With Obama and Hillary verbally jousting, and Edwards trying to get a word in edgewise you managed to keep things moving, and still let the proverbial "Fur Fly". Keep up the good work. I hope you do more debates in the future.

    January 22, 2008 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  20. Dwayne, Pa

    I also think they did key in and explain many topics and their plans.
    And if people were listening, Senator Obama clearly explained his "present" votes in the Illinois Senate.
    If you missed it, voting yes means you accept the bill. Voting no means you decline the bill. Voting present means something in the bill needs changed before you will accept it.
    It was pretty clear to me.

    January 22, 2008 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  21. Allen

    wolf, the debate was outstanding - always good to see candidates step way, way outside the "bubble" and away from the scripting & packaging. Personality comes through. Agility is obvious. Last night was revealing on many levels. Kudos to you & CNN.

    January 22, 2008 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  22. Mark, Chicago, IL

    I don't think the debates help me at all... they are just a media circus and do not really help me understand the position of the candidates. I read the candidates statements from their respective websites... listen to them as they make there campaign stops and articulate their vision.

    The debates are just showing the worst of the candidates and the moderators and the media are just fat happy showing the worst of a person. I want to see the best of the candidates and let them talk about him or her self, not about the other person.

    I think the debates are tiresome and 'entertainment' rather than an education in the political process. The media has become the lowest common denominator in society and they should be ashamed that is what they have become.

    I'm voting for Hillary by the way and expect full well that McCain will be the Republican candidate. I believe Hillary can beat Mc Cain – I don't think Obama or Edwards can.... If the Democratic candidate is Obama or Edwards – I'd just as well not vote and stay home... I can't support either of those untested newbies...

    January 22, 2008 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  23. Susan, MI

    Loved the Jerry-Springer like event, Wolf. Pat yourself on the back for asking some really bizarre and pointless questions ('If Martin Luther King Jr. were here today, who would he want nominated for president?' 'Obama, what do you think about Bill Clinton being called the first American black president?' ) I'm sure those pressing questions were on the minds of the South Carolinians who tuned in or attended the debate and that by peppering the candidates with questions that would result in a proverbial brawl and boost ratings (as you were congratulating yourselves on today), all of their concerns were addressed.

    January 22, 2008 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  24. Roger

    Over 100 present votes, wobbling on issues, several hypothetical decision statements (creates confusion on his actual position), one year as Illinois senator, folks what else do you need to know to be convince that Barrack Hussein Obama is not meant to be president of this country. If he waited, I believe he might be the first black president but he screwed up. He's not ready!!

    January 22, 2008 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  25. carol

    Lauren – Hillary stands her ground that the choice she made about the war was based on all the crap Bush and Cheney were spreading. She didn't try to flip-flop like Obama.

    Everyone – stop the racist, mysogenistic, disgusting attacks on all of the candidates! We all of enough relatives for that!

    January 22, 2008 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
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