Debate: Did Bob Schieffer demonstrate bias?

posted at 1:00 pm on October 16, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

No presidential debate analysis is complete without judging the moderation.  Bob Schieffer of CBS moderated the debate last night and appeared to do well, at least in getting the two men to argue with each other.  There did not appear to be any significant time differentials or “last word” issues.  In fact, the only time I thought about Schieffer’s peformance last night was when he asked about abortion — a topic inexplicably avoided by the three previous debate moderators.

In the previous debates, the bias demonstrated itself in the questions.  According to Andrew Malcom’s transcript, here are Schieffer’s questions:

  1. On the new economics plans this week: “I will ask both of you: Why is your plan better than his?”
  2. Paraphrasing: What specific programs will you cut in light of the economic crisis?
  3. Paraphrasing: Do you think you can balance the budget in four years?
  4. Leadership and the campaign tone: “Are each of you tonight willing to sit at this table and say to each other’s face what your campaigns and the people in your campaigns have said about each other?
  5. “Why would the country be better off if your running mate became president rather than his running mate?”
  6. “Would each of you give us a number, a specific number of how much you believe we can reduce our foreign oil imports during your first term?”
  7. Health care: “Given the current economic situation, would either of you now favor controlling health care costs over expanding health care coverage?”
  8. Judiciary and abortion: “Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue?”
  9. Education: “The U.S. spends more per capita than any other country on education. Yet, by every international measurement, in math and science competence, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, we trail most of the countries of the world.  The implications of this are clearly obvious. Some even say it poses a threat to our national security. Do you feel that way and what do you intend to do about it?”

One could claim that a lack of foreign-policy questions hurt McCain, but the two participants agreed weeks ago to focus on domestic-policy issues in this debate.  Schieffer stuck to the plan; had a major foreign-policy crisis reared its head in the last few days, he probably would have included it, but it didn’t.  I don’t see any particular bias, soft or otherwise, in the question selection or their wording.  In fact, I was surprised to hear the issue of abortion raised, although I do notice that gun control didn’t come up …. again.

The first word/last word dynamic is actually rather interesting.  In the nine topics, Schieffer gave McCain the first word five times and Obama four.  McCain, however, stayed aggressive and got the last word in seven of the nine topics, including this zinger on the last question:

MCCAIN: Because there’s not enough vouchers; therefore, we shouldn’t do it, even though it’s working. I got it.

I didn’t see any clear evidence of bias in Schieffer’s performance.  I thought he did a credible job as moderator, probably better than I expected.  He managed to keep it lively without excessively interfering in the exchanges.


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It’s a complex history, and simply saying “confederacy = bad, federal union = good” really misses the mark.

I don’t see your point. The proponents of the Constitution were called Federalists, the ones that preferred the status quo were anti-Federalists. Don’t take my word for it, that’s what they cast the issue as. We went, in their language from a confederacy to a federalist system. What we went to is a Union. States operating with one accord on issues that were bigger then themselves. Without that, we’d have had more wars similar to the previous French & Indian war.

They concluded that they needed to rebuild the constitution in order to strengthen the fabric of the confederacy.

They didn’t “rebuild” it. They scrapped it.

“states’ rights”, the fundamental vestiges of confederacy, which were pretty much annihilated after the States’ War.

Yeah, people say that a lot, but it’s not really relevant. The south started an insurrection (the war didn’t come after secession, it came after firing on Ft. Sumpter) and the Constitution gives power to put down insurrection. So the government acted within their power.

Here’s the bottom line: the states run up to the federal teat and do what the central government wants. You can’t blame that on federalism, if the states agree in principle with the national government. Blame it on the decisions.

Regardless, the system’s good. The abuse of it is bad. But it’s a great system.

Spirit of 1776 on October 16, 2008 at 3:16 PM

Regardless, the system’s good. The abuse of it is bad. But it’s a great system.

Spirit of 1776 on October 16, 2008 at 3:16 PM

It certainly is the best system the world has ever seen, regardless of my preference for confederacy.

Actually, I’d really prefer an absence of government, but that’s another debate….. ;)

LimeyGeek on October 16, 2008 at 3:24 PM

It certainly is the best system the world has ever seen

I wholly agree. Speaks quite favorably of England’s intellectual heritage as well I think.

Spirit of 1776 on October 16, 2008 at 3:27 PM

He let the superfluous BS go on way too long. He was Taking away time that could have been spent on Substance. He never stopped or interrupted Obama but he did McCain. I also feel he manipulated McCain’s attention so he would talk to him instead of the camera. But, McCain let him get away with it.

Guest1.1 on October 16, 2008 at 4:01 PM

There should be 2 debates, if the whole debate thing is continued…

One should be more like the format that Rick Warren did, with questions that are secret and which reflect what Americans are curious about, not what any journalists think Americans are curious about.

The second should be where candidates point out their differences/strengths…like a debate, but with 2 or more moderators who fact check them as the event goes on. Fact checkers could be flagrantly Rep and Dem, as long as they know their stuff and can fact check their side’s opponent. That way, a Biden can’t lie his way through to a Stepanopoulos-rated victory and viewers can see who is trying to spin and who isn’t. It would serve to keep the candidates honest and eliminate a lot of the ”who won” crap once it’s over.

The current type of debate we have now has lost it’s purpose. We need change. Ha.

lostinfrance on October 16, 2008 at 4:16 PM

Not sure if this has been said on the other page.. but I did notice Barack talking directly to the camera.. much the same way Sarah Palin was criticized for doing during her debate..

DaveC on October 16, 2008 at 4:27 PM

Regardless, the system’s good. The abuse of it is bad. But it’s a great system. – Spirit of 1776 on October 16, 2008 at 3:16 PM

The best in history. So why the hell has any newly formed country other than us adopted it in the past 200 years? Can someone please answer that?

ManlyRash on October 16, 2008 at 4:32 PM

I haven’t seen any overt bias with the moderators thise election, even with Ifill I think it has been pretty fair.

Cr4sh Dummy on October 16, 2008 at 5:55 PM

The heck with the debates and everything else. What Americans must do is simply go out and vote. Rush Limbaugh suggested last week the way to win. We have to drag John McCain over the finish line by voting and campaigning for him until the very end. McCain isn’t my favorite but this Obama character is bad news for the country if he gets control.

UnEasyRider on October 16, 2008 at 6:20 PM

Well, when Obama was stuttering on an answer, the moderator had to nurse him along.

johnnyU on October 16, 2008 at 6:48 PM

I thought the moderator was fair. Kind of favored BO. Would have been nice if one or the other. Would have apologized to us over Our wonderful caring Government! They should be raising hell to punish all involved. And, BO was tied to this mess. Why don’t they forgive us on our Credit? Not pay our homes, but wipe our Credit history for us? Might be asking a tad to much. Must be this worm root stuff. There should be quite a few in jail. Freeze their assets. Make them fork over the money. AIG took people to hunt in the UK. WTF is this shiot? Then they have the nerve to rub it in. After they borrowed the first amount. They do it again with the money they got again. AURGHUUUUHHHHHH We all were screwed. We didn’t do it. Except the ones that couldn’t afford it. So they lived over their means. They should have been turned down. Sorry, a tad ticked. BO is after Fox News now. Crazy stuff.

sheebe on October 16, 2008 at 11:47 PM

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