Selection of Presidential Moderators

In the upcoming ice Presidential debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin it will be moderated by Gwen Ifill who has written a book titled: The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama. This indicates a direct intelectual and fiduciary interest in one of the candidates.

The debates are put together by the CPD (Commission on Presidential Debates) which is a 501©(3) corporation put together for the purpose of producing debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates.

2 questions for debate:

  • How can a moderator be considered neutral in a debate after having written a book about one of the candidates

  • How can a 501 © (3) corporation maintain a tax free status if it hires a biased moderator.

The book doesn’t seem like a pro-Obama slobberfest (although it’s hard to say, since it is not due to be released until January 2009). The summary of the book says (in part):

Sounds more like an examination of racial progress and politics in America than like an endorsement of Obama. And even Republicans have said it is a good sign that a black man can be the presidential nominee of a major political party. So (absent further information) I’m not seeing anything overtly partisan here.

Since the actions of a Moderator are simply to ask questions, keep time, and keep the debaters (figuratively) apart in the clinches, the task of actually moderating such a debate does not seem to be open to much in the way of corruption. (If evidence is presented that a moderator actually met with one candidate or staff prior to a debate to share which questions would be asked, that would indicate a clear conflict of interest, but that would be more likely with a moderator who had never “written a book” about a candidate and who would, therefore, be under less scrutiny prior to a debate.)

The 501 © organization can keep its tax-free status as long as it does not deliberately employ a person for the purpose of corrupting the process.

Every one of the moderators (unless we bring them in from foreign nations) is going to vote for one candidate or another, so they all have an interest in corrupting their performances. The fact that one of them will have written a book–a book for which the sales wll probably be equal regardless of the outcome of the election–simply means that that moderator will be under closer scrutiny than other moderators, making corruption less likely.

I’ll also toss out there that all factors in a debate, including the moderator, are subject to negotiation and approval by the candidates and their staff. If Ifill is a moderator, then both McCain and Obama found her acceptable and signed off on her doing so.

You were paid to say that. I have proof.

Exactly. If the McCain campaign didn’t have a problem with her, why should I?

This should not be a problem- Sean Hannity has “written” several “books”, and he gave an incredibly fair and balanced interview of Palin.


Not to mention Ifill has a spotless resume and is a very sharp and professional woman. She is no dummy and knows the debates will be scrutinized to the N[sup]th[/sup] degree. There is no way she is dumb enough to show favoritism and potentially tank all the credibility she has carefully built over the years in one, 90 minute debate.

I also posted in a thread similar to this that ended up in the Pit that even IF Ifill is overly hard on Palin it is a win for McCain/Palin. They’d love nothing more than nationally televised proof of the overtly liberal media beating up on their girl. They have been trying to make this case for weeks now and such a turn, I think, would do more to help them than if Ifill is neutral or easy on Palin.

In short it is hard to see how the McCain camp can be bothered in the slightest with Ifill…whatever she does.

I found this news a little surprising, but a book about black politics is not the same as, say, Paul Begala’s book in which he argues the world will explode if McCain is elected (or something similar). The GOP obviously has no problem with it, as was already noted, so I don’t see this as a big problem. I’d prefer if the debate conditions weren’t firmly in the control of the Republicans and Democrats, but that’s a separate thing.

McCain’s camp says that Ifill did not disclose that she was writing that book. So you can’t blame them for accepting her.

There’s a clear conflict of interest here. A book about ‘the age of Obama’ isn’t going to sell as well if Obama loses the election.

As for what she could do as moderator - well, I’m guessing she’ll try hard to stay objective, but potentially there are lots of things a moderator can do to sway things. For example, if Obama dissembles on a question, she could ignore it. If McCain does, she could say, “You didn’t answer the question, Senator. Let me ask again.” There are a dozen ways in which a biased moderator can skew a debate. I seem to recall that Obama supporters complained about just that with Stephanopoulis/Gibson during the primaries.

If the debate were being hosted by someone from FOX news, Democrats would be a lot more upset about this. In fact, didn’t they threaten to bail out on a debate when it was announced that a FOX news correspondent would host?

Well, except for that fact that Ifil won’t be moderating Obama and McCain, but their running mates, instead.

Not true. It’s a wonk book that is not going to be read by very many people outside of poli-sci fans–and they will want to read it regardless whether or not Obama gets elected because the fact that he made it to the Democratic nomination is part and parcel of the book’s theme.

If Obama wins, there might be a couple of hundred extra pre-publication book club sales, (amounting to a net gain of $142.57 in Ifill’s portion of the proceeds), but once the book hits the streets and non-political Obama fans find out what is in it, sales will fall off right away.

I believe nothing the McCain camp says, but have they now said that they think Ifill cannot be a fair moderator? If not, then this point is irrelevant.

What evidence do you have that her book sales would have anything to do with whether Obama wins or not? The book is not even about Barack Obama per se, it’s about the advances of black politicians since the civil rights movement. The book talks about both Republican and Democratic political figures. It’s not a politically partisan book, or an Obama fanboy book. The phrase “Age of Obama” in the subtitle (a phrase predictably mischaracterized by Drudge as the title of the book) is a reference to the most prominent example and most significant advance, but it’s not a book ABOUT Obama.

  1. Ifill is moderating the VP debate. McCain and Obama won’t be there.

  2. If Ifill is unfair in her moderation, everyone will be able to see it. Do you think she will be able to be secretly unfair?

What’s going on here is that the McCain camp is laying the groundwork to blame a poor performance by Palin on the moderator and to try to intimidate Ifill from pressing Palin very hard on her non-answers. They’ve already negotiated any direct interaction between the candidates down to 30 seconds per question, so now they’re laying the groundwork for accusing Ifill of having an ulterior motive if she dares to ask Palin to give a straight answer to a straight question.

What are you so afraid of? The questions to Palin will either be fair or they won’t be. If they’re fair, then you have nothing to whine about. If they’re not fair, then everybody will see it.
Barack Obama went on Bill O’Reilly. There is no more blatantly biased and hostile interviewer than than that (and one who routinely publishes partisan, political books). If Obama can handle Bill O’Reilly, them why can’t Sarah Palin handle Gwen Ifill?

Every side complains to try to get a leg up: Obama supporters complained about Gibson and particularly Stephanopoulos, who used to work in the Clinton White House, which is a larger conflict of interest. Clinton bitched even harder with the “I have to answer all the questions first” and “I’m expecting you to offer Senator Obama a pillow” stuff. This is another example of that, and it’s also true that partisans are prone to interpreting innocuous things as evidence of bias against them. Ifill should’ve disclosed that she was writing the book if she didn’t do so, but I don’t think it prejudices her.

Well, there are a few things a biased moderator could do to benefit a candidate over another. He or she could frame questions in such a way that they’re favorable to one of the candidates, he or she could more strictly enforce the time limits for the less favored candidate, he or she could, like Sam Stone mentioned, point out inconsistancies or evasions by one candidate and not the other, and I’m sure there are other ways a biased moderator could benefit their favored candidate.

Please note, I’m not saying that Gwen Ifill is biased or will do any of those things. I’m just saying that a moderator could do those things, if he or she were so inclined.

No. Not in the General Election debates anyway.

I’m unsuprised the McCain camp agreed to her. Even the appearance of bias could be helpful. There may be none but it gives people something to hang a hat on. It’s a good political move by them.

Were I the Obama camp, i’d ask for a new moderator, regardless of whether I thought she was going to moderate in a biased fashion. Anything like this is going to give people a reason to treat the debate as unfair, forgive a poor Palin performance or excuse a good Biden one. Things like this need to be as above board as possible. It doesn’t matter if I or you think she’ll do a poor job - as long as some think she will, it’s a lot easier to get a new moderator than it is to convince that person you’re right.

FOX Noise makes a living out of being partisan so their talking heads will gleefully engage in it. Gwen Ifill’s career would be severely damaged if she comes across as partisan. As I said above Ifill is no dummy and I seriously doubt she’ll put a torpedo into a long career to score a few cheap points on Palin.

And if she did, then it would be evident for everybody to see.

I believe Clinton, Obama and Edwards did boycott an early primary debate that was going to be on Fox. It was in mid-2007. I forget if the full debate ended up happening or being canceled.