Thursday, October 6, 2016

Give the moderators a whistle

no nonsense 
   It was another era and some of us miss it.
   The lad with the earphones looking over the shoulder of the men at the table is me. I was a political reporter covering a mid 70's state convention. The Africa American with his back to the camera was in the midst of an appeal and protest about being cheated out of his vote by political bosses who opposed the candidate for governor that he supported. That is the credentials committee at work. He was trying to be seated as he was elected. In those days a diligent journalist would not let a closed door keep his curiosity at bay. I was on the air live at the time.
     no way to run a debate
   That anecdote is by way of building credential. In those days and for a couple of decades to follow I moderated political debates. General election and primary debates.  Governor, US Senate, Mayor, Congress. I enjoyed the challenge.
     I watch political debates these days and feel sorry for the moderator.
     There was a time when on my cue the booth director could cut the microphone of any candidate who blathered on longer than the allotted time. 
     In one debate I had a coaches whistle and told the candidates that should they not stop when their time is up, I would blow the whistle. No one smiled.
     Politicians have become masters of answering by avoiding the question and cutting directly to one of their well rehearsed ad libs or talking points. I would interrupt and remind the candidate they were prevaricating, obfuscating, or dodging the question. I would even challenge them and ask "are you afraid to answer? am I speaking over your head?" A couple of times I asked the candidates to respect both the audience, who had tuned in, and the process and "simply answer the question."
     I don't know what kind of restrictions may be placed on the moderators in these recent cycles, but they and all of us would be better served if they could simply tell the candidates to cut the bull shit!
     By the time of my last moderating job I was a known commodity, for better or worse. I was fortunate to have two intelligent candidates with whom I had history through years of coverage. I knew them and they knew me. It was October 14, 2008 and was a contest between then incumbent Governor Mitch Daniels and the Democratic challenger former US Representative Jill Long Thompson. It was staged by the Indiana Debate Commission before a full house in the Indiana University Auditorium and was broadcast statewide and into the Louisville Kentucky and Chicago Illinois television and radio markets. Being a debate moderator is not a popularity contest. Done properly it can bring understanding. I think we should give them whistles.

     See you down the trail.


  1. It would be easier to place each candidate on an active pedestal above a water tank. Go over your time, obfuscate, or lie – you get dunked. Think about the ratings!

  2. I think you could be onto something here!

  3. My oldest pointed out sometime in the primary debates that often the moderator was the most intelligent person taking part in the debate. As they stand now, I think the debates are a waste of time.

  4. I vote for the return of the whistle...hold their feet to the fire

  5. The debates are disappointing now. And Judith I'd love to see the return of the whistle.

  6. If one rambles past their time or interrupts the other's time, why not simply turn off their microphone? Perhaps there'd be a Pavlovian effect, i.e., actual learning.