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Damage Control 1.0: Fox Blames the Moderator (Not the Candidates) for an Uninspiring GOP Debate

Reported by Melanie - December 12, 2007 -

Neil Cavuto kicked off his show today (December 12, 2007) with an uninterrupted ten minute appearance by Mike Huckabee, after which he brought on Fox's heavy hitter, Brit Hume. Hume was on to provide "analysis" of this afternoon's GOP Iowa debate. Hume doesn't appear on Your World often (it's, ahem, a "business news" show after all), but when he does, it signals that whatever he's on to talk about is dead serious. Well, the "anaylsis" wasn't about the flat, lackluster, unenthusiastic demeanor of the Republican candidates (putting aside Alan Keyes, who was very enthusiastic), it was about the "performance" of the moderator, Carolyn Washburn of the Des Moines Register.

Introducing Hume, Cavuto said, "This was one of the weirdest debates I've ever seen. Is it going to register with people?"

Hume:

Well, I don't know...the problem is if you look at it in the way these things are normally looked at, you're always looking for moments in the debate which are kind of defining moments, the ones that people hear about, the ones that they see replayed on television. There weren't many and those that there were were not particularly decisive.

One had imagined at this late stage, with so much at stake in Iowa, that there would have been some opportunity afforded by the moderator for the leading candidates to mix it up a little bit, to challenge each other... The moderator conducted the debate with a very strict adherence to the time rules and so on, and in such a way that I didn't, in the course of it, I don't think any of us who were here watching, ah, heard anything they hadn't heard before.

Hume went on to say that they were investigating why Keyes was allowed to participate. He said he found it "capricious" and "very odd."

Back to Cavuto: "Brit, the moderator today could have profited handsomely by having videos of your moderating performances but clearly, that did not happen."

Hume: "My moderating performance was really just that though. I didn't attempt to be that much of a questioner. I left it to our panel."

Cavuto, "But there was also debate that was encouraged, you know."

Hume: "Well, you need to let, you know, you don't need to tell people not to applaud. That's part of it. Everybody has partisans in the room. It lends life. It's worth doing."

Comment: I watched part of the debate and it was indeed dull, but not because of the moderator. It was dull because the candidates repeated the same old lines about terrorism and security and "protecting the American people" that we've been listening to for the last six years. What I did like about it was that the moderator asked questions about things like global warming and education, which haven't been discussed much, if at all. And I thought it was great that she stuck to the time rules. Some of these guys (and gals) get carried away listening to themselves talk while not saying all that much. I appreciate a moderator who tries to get a yes or no answer out of a candidate. But when you come from the perspective of news as entertainment, yes, you want the candidates to "mix it up a little" and to "challenge each other" (meaning yell, pound the podium, put each other down) and for the crowd to clap and jeer as if watching a boxing match, because that makes for a more exciting show. But as an American citizen who is deciding who to vote for for president, I want to know what the candidates stand for. I don't want a show. Sorry Neil. Sorry Brit. The problem wasn't the moderator. It wasn't that the candidates weren't given an opportunity to jab at each other. The problem was that the Republican candidates all sounded the same and none of them had anything new or fresh or interesting or thought provoking to say. And you know it.