Consider this today’s exercise in understatement. The intervention in the second presidential debate by CNN’s Candy Crowley touched off outrage from Republicans and no small amount of criticism from other journalists — especially when Crowley turned out to be wrong on her statement of fact, and then very wrong when the facts on Benghazi and the nature of the attack kept coming out. Crowley’s intervention reversed the momentum Mitt Romney got from the first debate, although it’s probably a big stretch to say that it changed the election. It certainly didn’t hurt Obama, though.
Romney told Hugh Hewitt last night that he was “getting a little upset with Candy,” and called the intervention “a mistake”:
HH: Now in the film, Mitt, the conversation comes up, that sequence in the debate and Candy Crowley’s intervention in it. But the only negative word, Mrs. Romney at one point says Candy Crowley and sort of mutters under her breath. Did you feel she was unfair at that moment in the debate?
MR: Well, I don’t think it’s the role of the moderator in a debate to insert themselves into the debate and to declare a winner or a loser on a particular point. And I must admit that at that stage, I was getting a little upset at Candy, because in a prior setting where I was to have had the last word, she decided that Barack Obama was to get the last word despite the rules that we had. So she obviously thought it was her job to play a more active role in the debate than was agreed upon by the two candidates, and I thought her jumping into the interaction I was having with the President was also a mistake on her part, and one I would have preferred to carry out between the two of us, because I was prepared to go after him for misrepresenting to the American people that the nature of the attack.
HH: Do you think that even today the nature of that attack is being misrepresented by the former Secretary of State and the President?
MR: You know, I think they have now come to the conclusion that in fact, it was organized in part by an affiliate of al Qaeda, which was very different than what they told the American people in the two weeks following the attack. And as to what happened on the night of the attack and what actions were taken, that’s just something we just don’t know the full story on, and I think people still wonder what happened there. I don’t know that there’s a cover-up effort going on, but I do know that it’s something which I think deserves to be fully examined.
The RNC plans to cut back on the number of sanctioned primary debates to seven or eight in 2015/16, but expect them to take more control over moderation as well. Even before Crowley’s uninformed intervention in that process, Republicans complained that the media was either too flippant or too interested in picking fights that didn’t exist — such as George Stephanopoulos’ out-of-left-field question in New Hampshire about birth control that (coincidentally!) preceded the rollout of the HHS contraception mandate and the Democrats’ “war on women” talking point.
The RNC can’t do too much about the general election debates, as those are coordinated between the campaigns and the Presidential Debate Commission, which means that cable-net talking heads will probably still moderate them. Don’t expect the next Republican candidate to agree to a debate moderated by Candy Crowley, though, or perhaps any Republican candidate from this point forward.