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)

    Blitzer, you did a fantastic job moderating that heated debate. You are great. You never seemed to take sides, you allowed immediate response from either Clinton or Obama once it was necessary. Keep it up.

    January 23, 2008 01:22 am at 1:22 am |
  2. swede

    You were there Wolfe and how could anyone but you know what to do. Things like that you have to feel out as it happens.You were there to see and feel the moments. Noone could tell you how they would have done...except and thumbs up..you did good.

    January 23, 2008 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  3. Ilocano

    You're the best, Mr. Blitzer. You are closer to being perfectly neutral than your peers and most bloggers. Ignore the critics who have already made their minds up.

    I wish, however, for you to dwell more on the differences of the candidates on issues rather than on their personal attacks on each other.

    January 23, 2008 01:29 am at 1:29 am |
  4. Lee

    All my typing went down the drain. Second time. Why even bother. Guess my opinion doesn't count. Thanks alot, CNN.

    January 23, 2008 01:42 am at 1:42 am |
  5. Joe in CA

    Mr. Blitzer,

    You know very well that it was Obama who started the fight; yet all of your CNN clips later continued showing as though Hillary started it; come on, you guys should rewind the tape and take some time to see the truth.

    Edwards came back looking strong. I never listened to him before, but after yesterdays' debate I think I would like clinton/edwards combination

    Though I like CNN, I feel that you are very partial to Mr.Obama

    January 23, 2008 01:43 am at 1:43 am |
  6. Oakland, Ca

    I couldn't watch too much of the debate, but I wasn't impressed with Obama in the portion I saw. When asked directly whether he would remove the troops by the end of his first year, he kept changing the subject and filled time with utter babble. I thought Clinton's response was far better, and showed insight into potential land mines.

    That's all I saw, but CNN's online coverage made Hillary sound like she lost big time. The analysis and editorials seems far to skewed towards Oboma and very hateful towards Hillary. It doesn't seem impartial at all, almost at the level of arrogance of FOX News. I'm not sure why CNN is so pro-Oboma, it seems to go against the spirit of journalism.

    Hopefully I can see a recap this weekend, but I'm leaning towards Clinton at the moment.

    January 23, 2008 02:19 am at 2:19 am |
  7. samuel

    Of course we know where they stand on issues; it's been hammered into us time and time again. All we need to do is look at your section on cnn.com where stances are put in a pretty list. All we need do is glance through their website and try to see how much of it is consistent with their time served.

    At this point your debates are purely for theatrical entertainment. Of course the higher-ups don't tell you this, but they love the drama and that's why they keep airing these debates...and although they they don't tell you this of course you know.

    At this point the debates are superfluous until there are two nominees.

    It's just a chance for soundbites and one-liners....not that any debates are truly substantial, many of our great presidents would've looked like idiots if they needed to debate their opponents. Expceting a candidate to answer questions they possibly (but not very likely) haven't thought of before is ridiculous; if they answer quickly and confidently, they're even more ridiculous than the questioner but will be praised nonetheless. Reflection is a lost political virtue.

    Our process makes way for the made-for-tv-polish and the media doesn't even attempt to change this. Such is life, eh?

    January 23, 2008 02:20 am at 2:20 am |
  8. Mark

    Overall I think Wolf is a good anchorman, but I believe he gave Clinton way too much time for her answers and very little time to Obama and Edwards to actually talk.

    He did never told Clinton to wrap it up but he was sure quick to cut off Obama when it was his turn to respond to an attack or allegation. Same for Edwards.

    It was very frustrating to watch. He should have just said I am going to give Hillary an open microphone for two hours.

    January 23, 2008 02:25 am at 2:25 am |
  9. Paul F., Alexandria, VA

    The TV media, including CNN, prefers conflict over education. Education is boring and doesn't get viewers. After all, if people really want to know what their policies are they can read their websites. Snappy attacks by the candidates draws eye-balls and that's all that matters.

    By the way, most people will not spend more than one minute reviewing a candidate's website, let alone study their largely safe positions. They understand that they really need to judge the character of the candidates to see who can make a great President.

    Interestingly though, this time around all the Dems have essentially the same agenda, with a few minor differences. Of course, Hillary is afraid to admit it will take a tax increase to save Social Security but we all know that choice is her preference. At least Barack and Edwards have the guts to admit it.

    Given the similarities of their programs though, personalities rise to the fore. Barack is very smart and charismatic, embodies change, is funny, and is inspiring. Hillary is very smart, embodies change, can be funny but often tries too hard and is simply uninspiring.

    As a result, Hillary is determined to bring Barack down into the mud where she spends most of her time. He's toooooo inspirational, so Hillary is attacking him at every turn in the hope he will keep responding to her and be unable to hold her accountable for her inaccurate claims and lose his charm.

    Hillary is following politics 101. If you can't play at their level, bring them down to yours. What's sad is just how excited new voters were to get involved because of Barack. After Hillary's done, though, neither of them may be able to win back all of their opponent's supporters. That would be devastating.

    In any case, we might as get used to this now, the GOP is planning worse.

    P.S. The best candidate for Dems is the one who has the best appeal to independents. Who can not only win, but not hurt our Red or Purple state representatives. That man is clearly Barack and the best way to confirm it is to see just how many Red State Democratic office-holders are endorsing Barack. That really tells the tale.

    January 23, 2008 02:37 am at 2:37 am |
  10. Florence campbell

    Last night's debate was fiery and hot . You let Hillary and Obama duke it out but i don't think it was angry . More like a debate designed for the two , my only complaint is Edwards should have been given an even time to respond and say something about the issues , otherwise I enjoyed it . I recorded the debate and watched it twice and boy that Hillary she was just on top of every issue and Obama tries so hard to be as quick and be on top but just finds himself stuttering and obviously grasping for things to say on a moments time . Hillary is just extraordinarily smart and strong . That is why she is more than capable and ready to hold the highest office in this country . So go Hillary !

    January 23, 2008 02:50 am at 2:50 am |
  11. pat

    The Democratic debate was an eye opener for me. I loved Hillary's ability to draw Obama into areas that he did not feel comfortable.

    Obama speaks in general terms and Hillary provides the statistics. I hope everyone sees the prepared person is Hillary.


    January 23, 2008 03:32 am at 3:32 am |
  12. Bryan

    Yeah, now I have a better understanding whether Obama thinks Bill Clinton is black, and whether Hillary thinks Bill Clinton is overshadowing her campaign. That's really gonna help me make an informed decision. Thanks!

    January 23, 2008 03:52 am at 3:52 am |
  13. gideon

    when Obama was trailing behind Hillary, and he was firing shots on her records, nobody was hitting Obama, but now that Hillary is scrutinizing his records, everybody seems to see Hillary as a villain?

    Hillary was right when she said to Obama that he should not expect a hands up from her while Obama was firing all the shots against her.

    I like Obama but he has not come up with something that is concrete. One does not live and aim high and eventually accomplish it just by blurting out , change, the change we can believe in???????????????

    January 23, 2008 04:04 am at 4:04 am |
  14. Peggy Marquez

    The only thing this debate did was more firmly set my down in the middle of the Edwards camp. When will we hear some substanstive information about the plans these people have for the future of America? It was pathetic to see them carry on like grammer school children!

    January 23, 2008 04:08 am at 4:08 am |
  15. SS

    Hillar uses a proxy in the name of Bill Clinton to falsely accuse Obama and when Obama attacks her, all you guys can say is he is showing his true colors... Grow up. Think what you will do when you are in the same situation. It is human nature to defend....

    I was a Bill Clinton supporter, but I'd never vote for Hillary is she gets the democratic nomination.... I'd rather vote for a replublican than Hillary. She has 35 years of experience making CHANGE. Give me a break.

    January 23, 2008 04:40 am at 4:40 am |
  16. Coach Thumper

    Well Wolf, you tried.

    There is no doubt, this was clearly the most intense and entertaining debate in recent memory, let alone in this historical season. Kudos on that.

    However, you are simply too nice sometimes and need a little backbone. Just ask Lynne Cheney.

    Perhaps a more stringent M.O. would help, along with a co-moderator (like MSNBC utilizes).

    I don't doubt your sincere effort, Wolf, but there is a fine line between letting the drama unfold and allowing the inmates to run the asylum.

    Perhaps you'll find a happy medium between letting the candidates express themselves and keeping necessary order.

    January 23, 2008 04:43 am at 4:43 am |
  17. Doreen Augusta Maine

    Please, people, if you watched the complete debate you know the bickering lasted a very short time. Personally, I hated the bickering, however, the Clintons have continued to malign Obama. He has been forced to response. I agree with Jesse Jackson (which surprises me) that Obama needs a surrogate to address the Clintons' lies and distortions so that he can continue on the road to truth and justice.

    This is how the Clintons run their campaigns - go in for the kill and when they are criticized they back off for a little while.

    January 23, 2008 04:45 am at 4:45 am |
  18. Garett


    January 23, 2008 04:49 am at 4:49 am |
  19. barry

    good job wolf, obama did a good job by defending his positions and try to explain why he voted certain ways in the senate while hillary only says she voted but regreted it. I think obama won.

    January 23, 2008 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  20. Morgan

    Great great great debate..... or at least the back and forth parts were entertaining, I haven't decided.

    My chief complaint is this: Everyone knows that the contest is increasingly between Clinton and Obama and all of the debates (on other stations as well) sit them next to each other. It is as if the producers are intentionally doing it so they can't get some back and forth bickering going on for ratings. Edwards should have been in the middle of the candidates. Shame shame shame.....

    January 23, 2008 04:51 am at 4:51 am |
  21. Stan

    How come there is no mention of an Obama/Edwards ticket?

    January 23, 2008 04:52 am at 4:52 am |
  22. Mike

    WOW, what a debate. I think that all 3 of these candidates would make a great president and I believe that they are all fairly close with their ideas for change. I think that Democrats are going to have a tough time picking because there are good choices and the Republicans are going to have a tough time picking because there are no good choices.

    January 23, 2008 07:05 am at 7:05 am |
  23. Jroberts


    You did a great job and a great service to the country–let is see how these candidates handle these issues.

    January 23, 2008 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  24. Robert Greason

    I have the utmost respect for you and watch your show regularly. I was discussed by the immature and unprofessional behavior of Clinton and Obama. I was also disppointed that Edwards claims that he does not receive equal time was confirmed on the debate. As you said in this article it was a three way debate althought that could be debated.

    January 23, 2008 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  25. Henry

    Personally I have seen stealing of slogans, campaign style, proposing what Obama has proposed on policies like economy and using words that Obama has used in his stamp speeches.
    What else do you expect me to be believe from Clintons if they can not be original from small things?

    January 23, 2008 08:05 am at 8:05 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20