The campaigns of Mitt Romney and President Obama are concerned about CNN’s Candy Crowley getting too uppity in the town-hall debate tomorrow night at Hofstra University. According to Time magazine’s Mark Halperin, they banged out a document stipulating the following:
“In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic … 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.”
Crowley has raised concerns about how closely she’ll hew to those rules. On Oct. 5, she said on CNN’s air: “Once the table is kind of set by the town hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y and Z?’”
Out of control! Can’t do that, according to the campaigns. Based on a close reading of the facts, Crowley appears to enjoy the blessing of the campaigns for the following activities:
1) Showing up. She may arrive at the debate venue and present herself for duty.
2) Listening. She may follow the proceedings.
3) Drinking water. She may take a drink or two during the debate.
4) Issuing professional facial expressions. She may respond to various comments in nonverbal ways, as circumstances warrant.
5) Talking. She may open her mouth and make noises, provided such noises don’t qualify as something known as a “follow-up question.”
Crowley, who hasn’t signed on to the document, declined to comment on this matter. Comment requests to the other concerned entities — the presidential campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates — fetched no on-the-record responses. Obama campaign official Jen Psaki said today that she wouldn’t comment on “the specifics of the negotiations.”
The restrictive language from the campaigns shows deference to format: Town-hall debates must give prominence to the questions of the folks in the audience. But if you don’t want the moderator to “follow up” or “comment” or “intervene,” don’t hire a journalist to fill that role.
In last week’s vice presidential debate, Martha Raddatz and Paul Ryan demonstrated just how hard it is to nail down a candidate who’s spouting nonsense. Even though Vice President Biden’s statement that “we weren’t told they wanted more security” in Libya was contradicted by very recent congressional testimony, he escaped immediate and appropriate accountability on the contradiction. Crowley correctly noted on CNN, “We hope that kind of group effort can pin down both of these men on a variety of issues.”