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. Allen

    The debate was the best I've seen. You did good, Wolf. I hope people paid a little attention to John Edwards. He seems to be the only one who wants to address the problems without getting personal about the other candidates.
    Allen from sunny Hartwell, GA

    January 22, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  2. Ivan


    I watch the entire debate with great interest. It was one of the best so far. Yes, Clinton and Obama scratched each other's eyes out, but they also talked about the issues and that is what it's all about. You did a fine job at letting them get things off their chest.


    January 22, 2008 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  3. Cathy

    I loved last nights debate..for the first time Berrack had to try to answer questions rather then rely on slogans.. like he will unite us..sounds like Bush's slogan..the uniter not the devider..we all know how well that worked out. Wolf, for the first time I thought you did a great job.

    January 22, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  4. Hanah Morgan, Bloomington, IL

    Did most of you even watch the debate? Yeah, Clinton and Obama fought like cats and dogs and yeah they kinda got to their points but John Edwards Was AMAZING. He's right! Where does any of that fighting and blaming get any of us?
    If it keeps up this way Americans brand of democracy will be like feudalism with running water no time.

    January 22, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  5. Tony Pappa

    Blitzer was absolutely horrible – I read this article and, were I him, would tout the fact that he's hosted so many debates previously. I stayed up until 5am watching the interview (I live in Eastern Europe) and thought how unfair the debate's moderator was to John Edwards (I should note that I am not supporting Edwards) and how the change of topic questions were so poorly aligned and misdirected. I.E. Poor Edwards sat there and waited for Clinton or Obama to "have their chance" to reply to the personal attacks, and then when the mediocre moderator would finally intervene because it was going on too long, one of your other two people would direct the questions to either Obama or Clinton.

    And CNN, seriously, why make such a big deal about the candidates "sitting down" for the second half of the debate – after seeing the free-for-all first half, that was the only difference.

    You should be disappointed in your efforts as moderators and hosts.

    January 22, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  6. Vi

    Wolf......You did a great Job. The Candidates where just as good. They willingly and not so willingly exposed themselves. Best Debate I have seen in Years. Keep up the good work. Was a MSNBC viewer until they change into idol worshipers of Obama. They for me now are comparable to FOX. Chris Matthews has a problem with women in power, station has become a real turn off. All I have left is CNN C-Span and PBS . Oh, and of course the net. They are all good candidates. You brought out some terrific answers.

    January 22, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  7. faith

    I think Wolf Blitzer did a great job as debate moderator last night.

    January 22, 2008 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  8. antonio

    Wolf, you wrote: "now that there are just three candidates left, as opposed to nearly three times as many."
    You know that's not true, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel are still running, but your network and you have decided to make the American public believe that they're not running, That's very dishonest.

    January 22, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  9. Joe

    With all the childish behavior and finferpointing the Dems are looking for the fastest , surest way to give the White House back to the GOP. The old "mine is better than your's" "Oh Yea" performance from Clinton and Obama last night will do little to unite the party and will result in a split in the party supporters that will result in neither candidate winning the general election.
    It is amazing how the quest for power has led to such destructive behavior and the smear campaigns by both groups seems to suggest that their leadership styles warrant a closer look.

    January 22, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  10. Jean

    Take away from last night: if you believe in universal health care and can't stand Hillary...support Edwards!

    January 22, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  11. David Duke

    To Tyler,

    When attacked by the clintons and do not respond, YOU ARE GONE.

    Obama did good by exposing these vengeful pair of pathetic human beings " The Clintons"

    January 22, 2008 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  12. Ali Smith

    The debate showed that Clinton is just a naggy old hag and far from capable of being president of the United States. She lacks any vision and can't even control her own husband, how will she run a country with 300 million people? I don't care which other candidate people support, just realize that Clinton is useless.

    January 22, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  13. grom

    very ininteresting debate yestersay. however there were 3 contenders not 2 . and the "3d." {edwards} covered more intersring subjects for the american voters although he was not given equal time in

    January 22, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    I think this debate and the debate anchored by Charlie Gibson in New Hampshire were both excellent. There is much to be said for hearing the candidates without interruption. Also seeing their demeanor, and how they react in these situations, is as revealing as what they say.

    January 22, 2008 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  15. Mitchel

    Wolf, I think you handled this one better than the UNLV debate in November. The exchanges were good last night. I also think it was Barack Obama's best performance yet. His debating usually doesn't live up to his speeches, but he outshined Clinton and Edwards last night.

    January 22, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  16. Sabrina

    Wolf, great job! This is the first debate that I learned some thing from. I loved that the glove were off and finally Obama had to answer some tough questions. And I think they all got their points out. Anyway give yourself a pat on the back for a good job!

    January 22, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  17. mike

    Hillary's politics is all what we have accustomed to and we need a new page in our republic if we really care about our next generation...

    January 22, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  18. David

    First debate that showed me anything worth seeing or hearing And I must say it was clinton all the way. And I do beleive at this point that if the election was set for 2/5 Clinton would win hands down. Hope they keep it up at least this way the nation will pay attention to what the candidates have to say finally

    January 22, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  19. Brian

    I just wish someone could explain to me how Obama plans to accomplish the things he says. Change in Washington and rehotric about "reaching" across the isle rekindles nightmares of W's first run.

    Can Obama speak? Sure. Is he an Idealist? Yup, so was Carter. I've yet to hear him explain WHAT he will do as President other than bring forth some magical change that every politician claims they will bring to the White House. I'm more concerned with how he will do it. I guarantee it won't be done by standing on principal and refusing to participate in Washington politics, afterall, were electing one man to one office, there is still a Senate and House full of status quoe politicitans to convince, and Obama doesn't strike me as the type willing or able to get much done.

    ...but he can speak...I'll give him that

    January 22, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  20. Leo

    I watched the entire debate last night and have read nothing regarding Edwards. He was the only candidate in control of his emotions. He was able to focus on the needs of the people. I was very disappointed in Clinton and Obama. They spoke over each other and at times, I couldn't even understand what they were saying. Unfortunately no credit was given to Edwards.

    January 22, 2008 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  21. L7

    I was very impressed with Edwards succinct discussion of predatory credit card and payday lenders and how their practices substantially hurt the black middle class. I would vote for Edwards, if I wasn't already committed to McCain.

    The media has to stop promoting political circus acts. Having had a black woman mayor, and a woman governor, both disasters, I ask that we stop voting for the novelty. Just because someone is black and/or a woman does not constitute a automatic qualification for a job like President. And the media has to stop promoting these plotlines like "Ooh, if (he's/she's) elected, they will be the first (black/woman) to hold that position."

    January 22, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  22. Ron Loggins

    Wolfe I think you did a pretty good job on trying to keep the answers on point. Next time i think it will help if no questions are asked related to either candidates past or any recent attacks they may have launched. Next time we need more information on exactly how the are going to attain these campaign promises. Unversal heath care will be very hard to accomplish if the Senate only had 55 democratics since most if not all Republican are dead set against. Also didn't CNN have a poll that said Hillary would have a harder time defeating Sen. McCann than either Edwards or Obama??

    January 22, 2008 04:32 pm at 4:32 pm |
  23. JAM


    I have been a loyal viewer of your program for many years, but I think last night’s debate was less than admirable. I got the impression that your hands were tied by trying to be politically correct, especially as far as Obama was concerned considering the venue. You allowed Obama to change the subject whenever he wanted without responding to the question asked. I think that was a disservice to the viewers.

    I don’t know if it had anything to do with MLK day, but even the questions seemed skewed in Obama’s favor. I’d like to ask why there were so many questions regarding Bill Clinton? Last time I looked Hillary was the one running for office. She should not be penalized for having him as a husband; I think she has already paid that price.

    I understand that you wanted to step back to allow a dialog, but you stepped back a little too far and that dialog turned into schoolyard bickering. If these two cannot even get along and respect members of their own parties how can they hope to work with the Republicans or even other world leaders?

    I think it is time for the media to stop being politically correct and start getting answers to questions based on what is best for our country.

    I remain an undecided Independent, however, after last night’s debate I am taking a closer look at the Republican candidates.

    January 22, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  24. PNK

    I agree with you, Wolf! Let the candidates fly, as you did. Good job. At one point I almost forgot there was a "moderator" which I think is just fine. We are at a point where it's critical to hear and see the candidates as they can present themselves, and I think it was fine. I'll bet John Edwards agrees with you – he was able to scrap with the best of them!

    Keep up the good work.

    January 22, 2008 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  25. Steve LaBate, Associate Editor, Paste magazine

    Wolf, with all due respect, I think this whole editorial is a bit pompous. Who cares about your role in the debate? This is just another example of what's wrong with modern media – it's all about the personalities at the expense of real news. Please stop injecting yourself into the story to boost your celebrity. Also, you pundits, collectively, need to lose these ridiculously clichéd boxing metaphors. It sounds and reads like a high-school newspaper. That said, I think that in spite of the viciousness of the attacks in last night's debate, it was still the best yet of this election cycle. It seems that the candidates have finally had time to get their plans and platforms in place, and we're getting more detail, more meat – more information that's actually useful to voters in making an informed decision about who's best to lead our country. And, lastly, let's be honest, Wolf. While you did let the candidates have more room to stretch out last night, you were constantly attempting to interrupt (usually unsuccessfully). Just watch the video.

    January 22, 2008 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
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