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. Robin

    Wolf, I have both positive and negative feedback for you.

    On a positive note: you did a good job letting the candidates speak at the debate. I personally don't mind a heated debate and believe that America is richer when there is uncensored discourse.

    On a negative note: I am very tired of CNN's biased coverage. It is increasingly clear to me that all of your commentators (perhaps with a couple of exceptions) are rooting for Obama. For example, Wolf, when you were asked on LKL who was ahead in the polls, you hedged and avoided answering but finally said Clinton by a narrow margin. Wrong, Wolf! Look at RealClearPolitics.com and you'll see that Hillary's current lead is 8.7%. A Rassmussen poll 2 days ago gave her a 10 point lead. Another example: Although Clinton beat Obama by 6 percentage points in Nevada, you went along with the spin that it was a "split" decision, while at the same time calling McCain's 3-point win in South Carolina a clear victory.

    Many of us bloggers have commented that CNN has been way too easy on Obama, both on your website and on the TV. Lately I have found FOX to be more balanced, believe it or not!

    So please make an effort to be more like the objective journalists you were trained to be and provide factual news reports, not slanted sensationalist reports.

    January 22, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  2. Frank Kammerer

    We needed to hear this debate. For some canidates, personality, poise, and charm seem to go away in political debates such as CNN's. You helped uncover what some of us needed to see. Thanks and keep up the good job!

    January 22, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  3. sandy

    The fighting began with Hillary, and all of you should ask yourselves, who signed
    NAFTA into law? BILL CLINTON! He signed that into law instead of fighting for universal healthcare for Americans.
    So remember when we were told we would hear a sucking sound well now we have it. No jobs, no money!
    I will not vote for Hillary if she is the Nominee for the Democratic Party,
    The Clintons are only about power and if you think she will get anything done remember the fights of the 90's.
    Also her comment about Obama taking responsibility about his votes she should talk, she voted for the war, she voted for the bankrupcy bill, so give me a break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    She is so poll tested it is unreal, and when she said she found her voice I guess it was Bill's and I voted for him twice.

    January 22, 2008 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  4. james, newport, KY

    That was a debate? Hmmmm....Wolf, maybe you should go back to high school and check the rules for debate. Those three just pitched their rehearsed stump speeches with occasional jabs at each other. Nobody came away feeling better about America or the candidates.
    Better luck next time, Wolf.

    January 22, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  5. James


    I want to say that first...you letting them actually debate the issues or even doing the mud slinging without the 90-sec soundbite limitation was worthwhile. Normal debates are usually 5-7 minutes per candidate and sometimes with round robin and open debate sections. It was clear that the clock watching was bothering all of the candidates and there was no reason to put them in straight jackets.

    They are also adults and not children, so they should be able to show some decorem on their own and your job is moderator...not referee.

    The only area I think that needs to be done better is ensuring equal time as best you can. Edwards was the one who mostly got the short end of the stick here and you could definitely have said a few times..."Let's give Sen. Edwards some additional time for his comments to be fair." If the debate time is within 5-10%...no problems, but beyond that you must step and an force more equal time.

    January 22, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  6. Dale Hill

    Enough is enough, Wolf! From now on, wear a referee shirt and use a whistle, PPPLLLEAAASE!

    January 22, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  7. Joe McCormack


    You did a poor job. The issues, the issues, the issues Wolf. Forget the cat fights, who the hell cares.

    What are the issues in America today and shut them up when they loose focus. Poor job in the last debate.

    Joe McCormack

    January 22, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. peter D

    I think it's disingenous to say that there are only three candidates remaining. Simply because your news organization CHOSE to only allow three candidates to debate does not mean that somehow Dennis Kucinich is off the ballot. You specifically said "three standing" and I think you should apologize and correct yourself as a good journalist would – Kucinich continues to stand for the nomination, whatever your opinion of his polling numbers.

    No one's disputing your right to tailor your debates – I think it's underhanded, but it remains your right. However, you shouldn't pretend that another candidate simply doesn't exist – it shows clearly your bias and institutional disregard for democracy and accuracy.

    January 22, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  9. Sunny in NC

    I think it would have been nice to include John Edwards the first hour. You shouldbe aware that Mr. Edwards seems to be a worthy cadidate , with worth while ideas. as an undecieded, I would have liked to hear more from him. I have boiled it down to Sen Clinton or John Edwards. I like Obama, but Hilary sort of chewed him up pretty easily. Makes me worried that he couldn't stand up to the GOP and their nasty campaign stuff. And they are desparete, so they will come out fighting. Thank you,

    January 22, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  10. E, New York, NY

    Include DENNIS KUCINICH in the debates.

    Stop asking petty questions about race and start asking more meaningful ones.

    What happened to the ENVIRONMENT and global warming?

    January 22, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  11. Pam H. Maine

    Hey Wolf,
    Not bad at all, finally a debate! A little fire under the kettle never hurt. Now that we know both Clinton and Obama can bite back it feels like we can actually start talking about the issues like Edwards has been doing. We want to know when and how they will deal with the issues in the first hundred days!!! It's a long way to the White House now give us definite plans!!!!
    Yeah Wolf!!!

    January 22, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  12. Surrealist, FT Myers, FL

    Wolf...Great Job!! Letting them cut loose allowed us a better glimpse of how they handle conflict and stress–and recovery from mistakes.

    The format was superb...we could really see what the two leading contenders were like with their hair down and their fur up!

    I'm please my personal choice–Edwards kept his cool–and I believe his responses and overall presentation was the most Presidential.

    Although I am pleased with their agendas–I do not believe they will achieve universal healthcare–because of the mandatory enrollment requirement.

    Most American's will fear another program like social security on the horizon...and neither of the candidates involved healthcare organizations, pharmacies, insurance, hosptials in their plan–which I believe is a mistake. If we're to change healthcare–we must involve the providers/sustainers/facilitators of that care. I would prefer a commitment to try–rather than an unachievable golden carrot for voters.

    Regarding the economy–only Edwards was not in favor of the current hot topic: paying government money to Americans to go out and stimulate the economy. This is the most ridiculous idea I've seen. The way to fix out of control debt–is not more debt. This is tantamount to using your credit card to pay your mortgage–and is not a good way to manage family finances–nor government finances. For that I am pleased–I guess that makes him a fiscal conservative when compared to Obama and Clinton!!

    January 22, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  13. berry

    I really like Wold Blitzer is always lookign for the most sensational piece of news and it does nto surprise me that he woudl let HIllary go on the attack for more than 2 minutes creating falsehoods and making accuations on such minor details as to what content is posted on Obama's website. What on earth doe sthat have to do with the issues.

    Conversely even when a candidate did not answer the question yo unever went back and asked them to answer it. I can't stand Wolf Blitzer in case you couldn't tell and I would prefer to watch MSNBC over CNN any day of the week. The only bright spot is Anderson Cooper.

    January 22, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. Doris Sullivan

    Surely I'm not the only one who noticed that Obama was so into himself and what he was going to say or so nervous when he walked on to the stage last night that he forgot to shake hands with Blitzer! The moment was very awkward and Wolf had to walk over to Obama to shake his hand. The job of President is the most demanding, stressful job in the world. Obama's awkward moment last night is very telling about whether he is ready for the job.

    January 22, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. Woz Los Gatos, CA

    C'mon, Wolf, you just know that she hates anybody who just might defeat her...

    January 22, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  16. C. Booth

    I agree with you Wolf. I still prefer Hillary over Obama. I think that he is
    mudding his own waters with his vague half truths...he's lawyering.
    Hillary and Bill want him to actually be truthful if he really wants to run our
    Country. I still do not think he as the knowledge and experience to do it!

    January 22, 2008 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  17. sarah

    While Wolf may have done fine I think debates as a whole accomplish very little. I learn almost nothing on a candidate's positions because no one will focus on the questions and moderators rarely call candidate's on the carpet for giving prepared speeches to questions no one asked. The fact that we have had more debates this campaign than ever before and still very little substance beyond three or four sentences is disheartening.

    I don't want to choose a president based upon witty comebacks and questions on former President Clinton's dancing ability. What I want to hear is why Obama is considered inexperienced but Hilary's only got one term under her belt. (If you are counting her experience as first lady then I think we might as well throw all the other first ladies into this race). I want to hear where the money is coming from for suggested programs, etc. These debates don't provide enough information – only entertaining sound bites for the media.

    January 22, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  18. Ellen

    People are making WAY too much of "conflict." Of course, the candidates are going to attack one another's records and policies. Grow up, folks. Frankly, it was good to hear both Clinton and Obama refute/explain the charges. In my mind, Obama seemed less riled and had better explanations. Edwards held his own as well. Having researched some of the original accusations since, I'm a bit disappointed that Bill and Hillary took so many of Obama's comments out of context. What that says to me is that Hillary must not have too much ammunition to use against Obama. I was leaning toward Hillary, but the more I learn, the more I'm moving in Obama's direction.

    January 22, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  19. SirBroiler

    This despite the bickering, this was one of the most significant debates in recent memory. The candidates were forced to defend their records, explain their positions on important issues like the economy and healthcare. Barely a mention of the war, however. I hope we don't forget this important issue.

    Wolf...you're the man.

    January 22, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  20. NE

    Trust me, all of you will get what you paid. I can't wait to see us Americans complaining about the Clinton's scandals over the next few years. Do you honestly think the Congress would want to work with HRC? I don't care if the Congress is controlled by the Democrats. They differ on how some issues. Hey, she is very presidential. Let's be honest! HRC would be some corporate lawyer somewhere if she wasn't married to Bill Clinton.

    January 22, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  21. JohnS

    Comments on this blog suggest that Hillary actually accomplished her GOAL:
    Make Obama look and sound LIKE me (Hillary) so that everyone will turn out to HATE him just as they hate me (Hillary).

    Next day, go out there are teel the world that Obama is equally as diversive.

    Make Edwards look good in the debate, and then join forces with him AGAINST Obama after the debate. Does anyone recall the brief meeting between Clinton and Edwards after the debate?

    Well, the Clintons have fooled you again, idiots!!! and you have indeed fallen for it!!!
    Good luck because she cannot fool Independents and moderate Republicans, only naive democrats!

    January 22, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  22. Tina

    You know what drives me crazy is the free pass some of you guys give Obama! Why isn't he or his campaign held to the same standards as Hillary's?? So are you people saying Bill Clinton is the only spouse of the presidential candidates on the campaign trail stumping on the part of their spouse?? I do not think so, I hear Michelle Obama speak at rallies, just as we have seen Mrs. Edwards doing the same thing. Moreover, both of these women constantly question Hillary's record, so what is the difference?? WHY THE DIFFERENT STANDARD? So Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Edwards can attack Hillary, question her record and stump on their spouses’ behalf, but if Bill Clinton does the same things as these women for his spouse, he is accused of being the one running for President. How is this fair? Make sure your litmus tests are fair and given equally to each candidate. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.

    January 22, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  23. Steve in MI

    ApolIo, I am impressed by Mitt Romney's and resume and believe he is likely the most qualified leader in the field of candidates. Unfortunately, the man has no integrity. He panders to voters, telling them whatever he believes they want to hear, His newly found conservative values are a facrce and his promises to bring auto jobs back to Detroit during the Michigan primary turned my stomach. What will he promise the people of Florida? 4 years free of hurricanes?

    We need a president with the courage to stand up and do what's right for the country and the wisdom know just what that is.

    January 22, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  24. Cecelia

    The debate was fiery at first, but it needed to happen. Obama needed to respond to all the mischaracterizations and misquotes the Clintons have slung his way. What would it look like for the future president of the United States to sit by and not stand up for himself. Sure he took some low blows at her, but that's fair game as she and Bill have been playing games with him in these past few weeks. People please. Listen to Hillary Clinton on the issues. She's the one with no substance and no direct answers to questions. She meaders around the question and vaguely answers them. She wants the power that a seat in the White House will bring. She will not follow through on anything she's promising. Four more years of the same political crap. I don't think so.

    January 22, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  25. Tyler

    Obama says he is taking the high road during his campaign. But yet he continues to make attacks on Hillary as well. He certainly didnt take the high road last night and he apparently still isnt.

    January 22, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20