Memo to TV news execs, and their talent: So do you really want to participate in presidential debates? Is the benefit of showcasing your personnel truly worth the headaches, and inevitable finger-pointing?
I will hardly resort to a "Toldja" over suggesting in advance that CNN would wind up in a defensive crouch after its correspondent Candy Crowley moderated Tuesday night's presidential debate, because the result was so predictable.
The beauty of retreating to the charge of liberal media bias is that it's such a handy way of deflecting attention from inconvenient stories about more significant matters. Although to be fair, liberals themselves are hardly immune from blaming the media, as was witnessed in response to Jim Lehrer's role in moderating the opening debate.
Still, Crowley got embroiled in controversy even before she asked the first question — there was the little issue of whether she was entitled to ask follow-up questions, as opposed to just referee — and then got dragged further into the muck when she dared to suggest President Obama had indeed mentioned acts of terrorism in the wake of the Libya attack, appearing to contradict GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
Never one to mince words, Rush Limbaugh said Wednesday that Crowley had "made a fool of herself." But Romney surrogates also piled on, accusing the CNN correspondent of interjecting herself into the debate and misrepresenting the facts. (Crowley has been out to defend herself today — on CNN, naturally — and most of the non-partisan analysis I've seen would disagree with that, but never mind.)
So make that three debates, with significant blowback against the moderators in two of them, and an assault on the integrity of ABC News' Martha Raddatz that preceded the other.
Bob Schieffer, are you listening? Because as the moderator of the fourth and final debate, I suspect a lot of people trying to plant seeds in your mind hope you are.
Frankly, I'm all for getting rid of moderators entirely. Let the two candidates come out, with a pre-negotiated list of topics, and go at it. Ring a bell when they use up their allotted time.
But that will never happen. And that leaves news organizations in the unenviable position of seeking to be even-handed, grey and unobtrusive in a political and increasingly media world that sees only red or blue.