Last night, I wrote that Tom Brokaw did a credible job as moderator and showed no obvious bias during the debate. Indeed, the one time when Brokaw enforced the no-response rule came when he shut down Barack Obama, much to Obama’s obvious frustration. But as with Gwen Ifill, complaints about a more subtle bias in the debate have arisen in the choice of questions Brokaw offered.
In fact, there are two complaints being heard about Brokaw’s performance. The less-substantive gripe is that Brokaw asked too many of his own questions, supposedly making a mockery of the town-hall format. That format died when everyone agreed to have Brokaw and his team vet the questions and decide which would be asked. A real town hall forum uses spontaneity for its energy. All we got last night were Brokaw’s chosen questions, delivered by his selected writers. Brokaw just outsourced his writing staff. The union should file a complaint of its own.
The question of questions is a stronger accusation. Like Ifill, Brokaw managed to avoid the following topics:
- Gun control
- Judicial nominations
With the current financial crisis, an emphasis on economics was expected. Brokaw did ask about entitlement reform, which hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. However, the topics above have driven presidential politics for decades and have single-issue constituencies that matter in elections. For the second straight debate, Americans didn’t hear candidate views on any of them.
Does that oversight help Barack Obama? On the first topic, most definitely. It would have provided an opportunity for McCain to hammer Obama for his opposition to the Illinois version of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act and explain to a national audience how Obama acted to protect infanticide. Gun control would have allowed McCain to challenge the Con Law expert on why he couldn’t take a stand on the Second Amendment before Heller. Judicial nominations would have spoken to the base in both parties, and on immigration, little daylight exists between the two candidates.
I’d call the latter two topics a draw, but McCain got hurt by not getting a question on the first two. Brokaw made the decision on questions, and he has to take responsibility for his choices. The lack of queries on these perennially hot topics should raise a few eyebrows. Will the American public get a chance to hear the candidates answer on them in the third and final debate?