One of the easiest jobs right now in all of media criticism is skimming Twitter for the brutal things said about Jim Lehrer, who moderated tonight’s presidential debate. It was his 12th go-round. People are thinking that all the experience didn’t aid the veteran PBS newsman:
There’s no argument here that Lehrer kept the polemics confined to the rules that he outlined at the beginning of the clash, whatever they were. Nor is there any argument here that the candidates didn’t ignore his ever-so-polite quasi-interruptions to inform them that their time was up.
Yet the debate was excellent — free-flowing, multitopical, informative and civil. Maybe a little too civil. Credit for those distinctions may well rest with the candidates, who’d obviously been drilling and drilling far more than they’d acknowledged in their expectations-lowering public statements prior to the Denver showdown.
Lehrer, though, deserves a nod as well. He moderated the thing, after all. Much of the vitriol headed his way grinds at his inability to enforce time limits, which are arbitrary and dumb anyhow.
He also gets points off among the commentariat for allowing himself to be steamrolled by the candidates. Okay, so the guy fails in a test of wills against two men who are putatively the most strong-willed people in the country.
Lehrer’s real problem was that, for one night, he had to play stand-in for the entire American media. And if there’s one thing the American public enjoys, it’s bashing the American media, no matter how it performs.