Jim Lehrer, debate moderator for the first presidential debate of the campaign season, is receiving harsh reviews for losing control quite early and quite frequently during Wednesday night’s debate. Republican Mitt Romney had his way with Lehrer while President Barack Obama blatantly ignored him. No matter which political party triumphed last night, commentators across the board seemingly all agree on Lehrer’s incompetence and inconsistency.
From asking extremely open ended questions (no wonder candidates wandered off to their own topics), letting Obama and Romney banter way past time limits and seeming “a bit overwhelmed,” as commentator Laura Ingraham tweeted, Jim Lehrer may have been regretting coming out of semi-retirement to moderate his 12th debate. Some were more direct about Lehrer’s performance. Richard Kim of The Nation wrote that Jim Lehrer “got utterly, totally savagely pwned.”
The criticism, unfortunately, is not unfounded as Lehrer’s performance does bring up basic questions like, why have time limits if they can be so easily ignored? At one point, Jim Lehrer tried to contain the topic and make aware the time limit, but Romney brushed him aside.
“Excuse me, excuse me. Just so everybody understands, we’re way over our first fifteen minutes,” Lehrer said.
“That’s fine isn’t it?” Romney asked.
“It’s okay. It’s great. No problem,” Lehrer said, to which the audience had a short laugh.
Another question may be, why have a moderator when the president of the United States can clearly tell time (except, not really)? After telling President Obama his time was up, the president replied that he “had five seconds before you interrupted me” and proceeded to talk for 30 more seconds.
Many have said that 78-year-old Jim Lehrer went in with a goal to stay out of the way of the debating candidates and let them do their thing, but most agree that some sort of control could have been good.