PBS’s Jim Lehrer will host the first presidential debate on Oct. 3 in Denver, Colo. CNN’s Candy Crowley will host the second, town-hall debate on October 16 in Hempstead, N.Y. CBS’s Bob Schieffer will host the third debate on Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.
ABC’s Martha Raddatz will host the vice presidential debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.
Crowley’s the first woman moderator of a presidential debate in 20 years, an odd lapse given the prominence of Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Katie Couric. (Walters moderated the first Reagan/Mondale debate in ’84, in fact.) If you’re wondering why no Brit Hume or Megyn Kelly instead, bear in mind that the debate commission needs both campaigns to agree to the moderators. The One’s simply not going to accept a Foxie — not even Bret Baier — unless Romney agrees to an overtly liberal moderator at another debate, and there’s simply no one in the MSNBC afternoon/evening line-up who’d be as remotely as evenhanded as Hume, Kelly, or Baier would be. Even if there was, what incentive does either candidate have to roll the dice on a risky pick? Come October, every syllable out of their mouths will be tightly scripted for maximum impact. The last thing they want is an X factor asking questions.
Interesting footnote: A quick check of the debate website reveals that not only has no MSNBCer ever hosted a debate, only once in the past 25 years has someone from NBC News been tapped to do so. That was Brokaw in 2008; Russert, David Gregory, and Brian Williams have all been shut out. The moderators typically come from a mix of CBS, ABC, PBS (Lehrer is a staple at these things), and occasionally CNN (Bernard Shaw moderated at least once). That’s exactly what we’re getting this year, which suggests that these things are governed by institutional inertia more than anything else. They’ve got a formula, they’re sticking with it, and the campaigns seem okay with it. Again, I think their top priority is not being taken by surprise, and these four seem unlikely to do that. Think back on all the debates you’ve watched since, say, 2000. What’s the most dramatic/memorable/unpredictable moment? Al Gore sighing? QED.
One other point worth flagging now. Martha Raddatz, who’ll be moderating the Ryan/Biden debate, is ABC’s chief foreign correspondent, which makes me wonder if the questions will be geared a bit more towards foreign policy than they might have been with a different moderator. That’s golden for Biden, if so: Not only is Ryan’s experience in that area thin, it’s a perfect invitation for Greasy Joe to spike the ball and do an end-zone dance over Bin Laden. Exit question: Will the VP debate draw more viewers than any of the presidential debates? It did four years ago.