October 15th, 2012
05:55 PM ET
2 years ago

Campaigns fuss over debate moderator actually asking questions

(CNN) – Campaign lawyers for President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have reportedly expressed concerns that Candy Crowley, CNN's award-winning chief political correspondent, will ask questions in her role as moderator of Tuesday's town hall-style presidential debate.

The report on Time Magazine's website indicated the lawyers expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates after an interview in which Crowley described her role as the debate's moderator.

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Asked about that role Monday on CNN's "The Situation Room," Crowley said it was the same as moderators of past town hall style presidential debates.

"There will be questioners to the right and left of me and in front of the candidates. And they will have the questions, and as was the case in the Charlie Gibson town hall meeting and the Tom Brokaw town hall meeting in presidential campaigns past, there was a time after that for follow-up and for furthering the discussion," Crowley said.

According to lawyers from the Romney and Obama campaigns, they felt that differed from an agreement made between the two campaigns in October, as spelled out in a memorandum of understanding.

Crowley herself, along with the debate commission and all of the other debate moderators, were not signatories on the memo.

The memo, which was posted in full on Time's website and also contains detailed stipulations about all three presidential debates, reads: "In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic." Time magazine and CNN share the same parent company – TimeWarner.

The memo continues, "The moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate or otherwise intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the two-minute response period."

The memo states that the moderator will select the questions, but is not permitted to "coach" the questioners.

Asked about the report Monday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki explained "there are discussions around every debate."

"I'm not going to get into the specifics of those," she continued. Psaki was speaking to reporters in Williamsburg, Virginia, where Obama is preparing for Tuesday's debate at a riverfront golf resort. "I will say that the president is looking forward to the debate tomorrow night, looking forward to answering questions from the American people who will be in the audience. But he's prepared for and ready to take questions from wherever they come."

Psaki said she would not get into the specifics of the campaign's negotiations with the debate commission.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama's campaign, wrote on Twitter Monday "Enough already about moderators. POTUS is ready for a vigorous debate and Q's from all comers!"

A Romney campaign spokeswomen did not reply to requests for official comment, though a campaign senior adviser said, "Regardless, Governor Romney is ready and prepared to answer questions on the issues."

Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., co-chair of the commission, told USA Today that the commission is not bound by the campaigns' agreement and that Crowley will be able to ask follow-up questions during a two-minute "discussion" period after each candidate has answered the question posed by a member of the audience. "This (agreement) is between the campaigns," he said Monday. "We haven't agreed to it and neither has Candy."

On the debate commission's website, the debate format is spelled out: "Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion. The town meeting participants will be undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization."

The debate is scheduled for Tuesday evening at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. Crowley was announced as the debate's moderator in August. She will be the first woman in 20 years to moderate a general election presidential debate. Carole Simpson moderated a town hall style debate in 1992, and Barbara Walters also hosted two presidential debates, in 1976 and 1984.

This year, ABC's Martha Raddatz moderated the vice presidential debate, a role that PBS' Gwen Ifill filled in 2008 and 2004.

Fellow journalists have argued online that Crowley should be able to ask questions of the candidates at Tuesday's debate.

Fox News anchor Greta van Susteren wrote it was "bizarre" of the campaigns to complain about a journalist potentially asking candidates questions at a debate.

"What are they both afraid of? A surprise question? a tough question? or worse, a follow up question that challenges them? That is exactly what the American people want in a debate and yes, Candy Crowley can do that. Both candidates need to be ready for anything and capable of answering anything," the Fox host wrote.

Chris Cillizza, political reporter for the Washington Post, wrote the campaigns were attempting to dodge follow ups and using the debate format as an excuse.

"To be clear: the campaigns' desire to keep Crowley on the sidelines is not born out of any grand desire to 'let the people be heard.'" Cillizza wrote. "Instead, it is a cynical play to avoid risk for both sides. The less direct questioning and, as importantly, direct follow ups the candidates are subjected to, the less chance there is they stray off their talking points and – gasp! – reveal a bit of their true characters."


Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • President Obama • Presidential Debates
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Michelle

    Unless SOMEONE asks meaningful questions and hold their feet to the fire for real answers, it will be just like all prior debates where a question is asked and the candidate makes a speech on another topic altogether.

    October 15, 2012 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  2. Woman In California

    Candy Crowley is no thrill for womens rights anywhere. Let's forget her disgusting appearance and look at her rudeness. She cuts off any democrat speaking but caters to any republican and that's why I don't watch her show. I don't like her or trust her, and I fully expect she will accommodate Willard and push the president aside.

    October 15, 2012 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
  3. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    If you recall Charlie Gibson retired shortly after being moderator and I don't blame him, it was terrible. Being a moderator is a damn if you do and damn if you don't job that can make or break you and it appears women are catching pure hell.

    October 15, 2012 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  4. Borderless

    Who cares if Candy Crowley asks followup questions? As long as she moderates fairly and does as good a job as Martha Raddatz, I would welcome it.

    Romney/Ryan 2012

    October 15, 2012 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  5. Underwhelmed by my President

    Both candidates are awful, hence the "fussing". Only racism kept the best candidate in 2008 (Hillary) from serving as President. Time for America to learn a lesson.

    October 15, 2012 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  6. 200 TON HAMMER

    Thats just mitt romney probeing for answers in what they think will exposed mitt romney so he can dress up a tall tale tomorrow night

    October 15, 2012 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  7. CBR

    Just another reason why these debates are no longer viable. The candidates prep and prep. Aides pump them with material and caution them about how they should act and react. There is nothing natural about the debates.

    Let's try setting up the debates using the rules that high school and college student use. In fact, let them be the one asking the questions and keeping the candidates on topic and task. An audience is not necessary. in fact having the two men in one room with mikes and cameras would be just fine. No pomp at all.

    October 15, 2012 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  8. Thomas

    Campaign lawyers for Mitt Romney were arrested in Las Vegas Friday morning after reportedly decapitating an exotic bird at the Flamingo hotel's. ... rare bird — a helmeted guinea fowl — with no remorse whatsoever.

    Is this true or False ?

    October 15, 2012 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  9. plain&simple

    End paid advertising and have only town halls and debates for three months prior to general election. Take the money out of play. TV will broadcast as part of their license requirements. Only one six year term for the winner of election.......get all this bs out of running for office and work on governing. Paid commercials only matter to the uninformed and just put money into the big money owners of the stations.

    October 15, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  10. Robert Julian Dew

    We are winding up two of the longest wars in U.S, history. They were not declared and were not paid for except as a result of battle field deaths, suicides, horrfick wounds and money borrowed from china not noted in the budget. We have a professional militarty. US citizens with the exception of military families. When the US or a vital interest is attacked a president must have to respond quickly but the presidentought to seek a declaration of war w/in two weeks. If granted a war tax should be iimposed and reviewed every six months.Then we the people could play our part!

    October 15, 2012 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  11. Tubby the Tuba Texas

    Let her rip!

    October 15, 2012 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  12. Daniel A

    Will Candy Crowley ask either candidate if they are for or aginst closing the loophole that allows Americans to save their money in offshore or overseas banks.

    October 15, 2012 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  13. dweezil22

    Actresses opinions are no more important than the opinions of women who work at McDonald's or anywhere else in America.

    October 15, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  14. T'sah From Virginia

    Remember the SIX studies that guaranteed Etch-A-Sketch Romney and Paul LYAN’s numbers will add up in their tax cut plan that they both “bragged” about in their debate??? Remember? Well, thank you Chris Wallace from FOX NEWS for pointing out the facts that all of the studies are “questionable” and most of them are by bloggers. NONE of them are NON-Partisan. The studies are:

    1. Harvey Rosen paper.
    2. Marty Feldstein Wall Street Journal op-ed
    3. Marty Feldstein blog post
    4. Matt Jensen blog post at AEI
    5. Curtis Dubay blog post at Heritage
    6. Romney Tax Reform White Paper

    Now, I don’t watch FOX NEWS – maybe sometimes when I feel I need a reason to remind me why I am on the other side – but all of those FOX NEWS watchers I really hope you learned a lesson from this. One of your OWN pointed out how deceiving RobMe and his sidekick boy Lyan is.

    WAKE UP AMERICA!!! Romney and Lyan are trying to etch their way back to the middle and they are doing a very poor job of it – And keep in mind, flip-flops are a lie; etch-a-sketching is a lie and a LIE is a LIE – they are guilty of all three!! These studies were tweeted and posted from facebook...LMAO

    Obama/Biden 2012 – The Only Trusted Way Forward!!

    October 15, 2012 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  15. kayla

    just wondering which mitt will show up. i heard he has multiple personality. how can you debate that person?

    October 15, 2012 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  16. Marj

    Why aren't conservatives selected to be debate moderators. We've had three debates and three lefties. The LMS continues to treat the American people like mushrooms! In the dark and fed manure. The American public isn't as stupid as you might hope. The fact that there isn't a conservative moderator is proof positive the lefties are more comfortable sans truth!

    October 15, 2012 07:40 pm at 7:40 pm |
  17. krehator

    The New GOP Slogan: "Everything is a conspiracy"

    October 15, 2012 08:00 pm at 8:00 pm |
  18. Indy

    I can't wait for Romney to spit stutter and squirm when he asked why he does not care about half (47%) of the country and we all know he meant what he said in the video so it will be interesting to watch him lie in front of a town hall with his answer.

    October 15, 2012 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  19. Romney is just confusing. Seriously.

    Romney's campaign always seems to have no comment on many items. Romney also has no time take questions from kids in Nic, or time for the people on The View as he always stating a scheduling conflict. What is Romney afraid of, and who does he talk to or have time for. This is why people question former Gov Romney's motives (e.g., his record in MA or his 47% comments) and his continuous switching and inconsistent stances.

    October 15, 2012 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  20. jerseylou

    She's a big time Repubican,she can't be trusted giving this debate.

    October 15, 2012 09:09 pm at 9:09 pm |
  21. Elder EQ Truss

    If this question could be asked, I would like to know from the candidates why did all the Republican in congress (both House and Senate) signed a contract not to work with President Obama? Was it to attempt to make him a one term president?

    October 15, 2012 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
  22. whodat

    Crowley is a hack. Look at her bio and "death wish" comment (use Google). Good luck to us all if this is what is called journalism in today's USA.

    October 15, 2012 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  23. Marianne

    Romney has 5 sons, yet NONE of them (neither Romney) have ever served for the country!
    What does it say about his integrity and patriotism? (Mormon...?)

    October 15, 2012 10:34 pm at 10:34 pm |
  24. Christine

    To borrow a quote from Joe Biden, what a bunch of malarkey!! If they cant handle an unrehearst question, how can they handle unexpected events while in the White House? Face it....we are screwed no matter who wins.

    October 15, 2012 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  25. sonnyofthemeek

    What a wonderful opportunity for American citizen’s to ask those questions no supposed news person has done for over four years. God Bless America!

    What is the IQ of the American citizen in their minds? We the people have no ears to hear the words they say, no eyes to see what is before us, and no brain to put both to use if we buy their versions of truth. I feel now the Admin seeks to kill any chance of a female leader in 2016 by blaming Clinton. Bill's help was needed to lend some value to a failed Admins record. I wonder how he feels now that his wife has been thrown under the bus. Why is it we get tall tales instead of the truth. If terrorists cause harm to American’s we deserve the truth.
    Let me pose a question to you all- If the so called news ( or today's Biased Views Readers not Reporters) people of today don't ask questions other than "What is your favorite song?) how can we vote knowledgably? If we listen to the differing outlets clearly on one side or the other, we fail future generations. Who in the world of NEWS represents the American people and not some other interest? Any you can name theses days? Please inform me if one exists today.

    October 15, 2012 11:43 pm at 11:43 pm |
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