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Moderator Wars

The Media Research Center tried to discredit presidential debate moderator with specious charges of "liberal bias." When that failed, it resorted to ugly personal attacks against the female moderators.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/25/2012

The Media Research Center's war against the moderators for this year's presidential debates began as soon as they were announced.

In an Aug. 13 Newsmax interview, MRC chief Brent Bozell hurled baseless attacks at the moderators -- PBS' Jim Lehrer, "tilts strongly to the left," CNN's Candy Crowley will be "drinking from the CNN Kool-Aid, and they’re the ones who are going to prepare the questions for her." In neither case, however, did Bozell or Newsmax writer David Patten provide any evidence to back up those claims.

Patten himself groused that another moderator, CBS' Bob Schieffer, "has a habit of asking questions on Face the Nation that suggest a point of view" -- but the evidence he provided was Schieffer asking Rep. Michele Bachmann, "Has the tea party made compromise a dirty word, and is that why Congress can't seem to get anything done?" Given that polls have suggested that tea party activists do not want congressional Republicans to compromise with Democrats, that's an entirely reasonable question to ask.

Back at the home base, the MRC's Tim Graham gave it a try in an Aug. 14 NewsBusters post bashing moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC. But mostly, he whined that Raddatz reported news that Graham would rather not see reported.

Graham actually complained that Raddatz called the drone killing of "American citizen/radical terrorist" Anwar al-Awlaki "another huge victory in the War on Terror." Why was that so offensive to Graham? "These are words ABC never used in the Bush era," he asserted. Graham was also annoyed that Raddatz portrayed a historic event -- the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy -- as a historic event.

Graham was even upset that Raddatz reported what other people say. He complained that Raddatz reported the opinion of "one officer's wife" following Nidal Hasan's massacre at Fort Hood, "I wish his name was Smith." Graham baselessly portrayed the woman's statement as Raddatz's personal opinion.

The next day, Graham sneered that CNN's Crowley "fits within the CNN media-elite mold of liberalism," whatever that means -- Graham certainly doesn't explain. But even as he smeared her as an "affirmative action" pick, Graham was forced to concede that she's a balanced questioner:

Affirmative-action lovers were thrilled that CNN's Candy Crowley would be the first female to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson's sneering turn in 1992. Crowley deserves the opportunity after being in the field of political news for decades, and is the closest thing the current crop of moderators has to a Tim Russert type in being able to question firmly both sides of the aisle.

Nevertheless, Graham filled out his blog post with cherry-picked quotes purportedly demonstrating Crowley's "more liberal moments."

The MRC previewed the first debate on Oct. 3, moderated by Lehrer, with the usual litany of purported bias, concluded by Graham ranting, "Who keeps letting these liberal public-broadcasting anchors moderate our debates?"

But afterwards, in which analysts generally agreed that Lehrer was an ineffective moderator who failed to challenge Mitt Romney's more factually dubious claims, the MRC had little bad to say about him. A NewsBusters post by Matt Vespa highlighted one criticism of Lehrer before dismissing it as "indicative of liberals’ reaction towards Obama’s poor debate performance."

Vicious attacks on Raddatz

By contrast, the MRC not only went after Raddatz -- the moderator of the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan -- much harder, the attacks got ugly and personal.

While Graham rehashed his earlier dubious hit job on Raddatz, an Oct. 10 NewsBusters post by Matthew Sheffield the right-wing intimidation campaign against Raddatz by highlighting that she had invited Obama to her 1991 wedding along with other then-staffers of the Harvard Law Review, to a man (now-FCC director Julius Genachowski) she divorced six years later. Sheffield wrote: "Of course, if a Fox News employee hosting a presidential debate were to exposed as having such a relationship with a Republican president, the story would be plastered all over the media and left-leaning journalists would be calling for him/her to be immediately replaced. Clearly this would be a good idea in this case as well."

Sheffield doesn't mention that the last time a debate moderator had a personal relationship with one of the debate participants -- which, it turns out, was even closer than the one Raddatz has with Obama -- the MRC said nothing about it.

CBS' Bob Schieffer -- moderator of a 2004 debate between President Bush and John Kerry -- played golf with Bush in the 1990s, and Schieffer's brother Tom, whom Bush appointed as U.S. ambassador to Australia, was president of the Texas Rangers baseball team at the same time Bush was a partner in the team.

ConWebWatch found no evidence in the MRC's archives that this was ever brought up. Instead, the MRC tried to paint him as anti-Bush; Graham insisted that Schieffer "tilted left against Bush in 2004" while ignoring Schieffer's personal relationship with Bush.

Graham ratcheted up the ugliness in a pair of tweets shortly before the debate started. First, Graham tweeted, "Questions lib media never asks: 'Will woman who won't take husband's surname have a feminist tilt?'"

That was followed by another tweet: "Or: will woman who marries three times have a hard time deciding which debate questions to ask?"

(Strange, we don't recall Graham complaining about Fox News' Megyn Kelly, who reverted to her maiden name after divorcing her first husband and didn't take her second husband's surname.)

After the debate, the MRC's Rich Noyes claimed that Raddatz "clearly favored Team Obama," asserting that "a plurality" of Raddatz's questions "incorporated a pro-Obama/Biden or anti-Romney/Ryan agenda." Noyes didn't explain what his methodology was, nor did he provide a list of the questions and how he grouped them.

Targeting Crowley

Noyes prefaced the Oct. 16 Crowley-hosted town hall-style debate between Obama and Romney with a pre-emptive attack claiming that most previous debates in this format have skewed toward "liberal agenda questions." Again, Noyes provided no supporting data or methodology.

When Crowley correctly pointed out that Obama at least implicitly called the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, to be a "act of terror" in a Rose Garden speech, she became an instant right-wing target.

In an Oct. 16 NewsBusters post, Matthew Sheffield ranted that presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley "disgraced herself" by her "incorrect seconding of Obama's statement that he declared the Libya terrorist attacks to be 'terror.'" Sheffield then asserted: "While Obama did indeed use the word, this is not what he meant by it. Instead, he was simply referring to 'acts of terror.' There was no mention of Al Qaeda or any of its affiliates with respect to the actual attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi."

Sheffield is not only parsing words, he's reading minds. How does he know what Obama "meant" by his reference to "acts of terror" in his Rose Garden speech? He doesn't. Nor can he prove has later assertion that Obama was "willing to deliberately misquote himself."

If Sheffield is going to play this sort of word-splicing game, he should also acknowledge that Obama did not specifically exclude the Benghazi attack from his references to "acts of terror," and that one can reasonably conclude that because he did not, Obama considered the Benghazi attack to be a terrorist act.

But Sheffield doesn't care about facts, he cares about trying to score political points and cares even more about Obama being defeated. He goes on to rant: "If Obama truly believed it was terrorism, he likely would have inserted this. He also wouldn't have gone on multiple fund-raising trips after the incident happened nor would he (and his underlings) have repeatedly blamed an internet video for the attacks for 2 solid weeks."

In fact, the video did play a role in the attack. The New York Times reported:

To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.

Sheffield wasn't done screeching about Crowley, though -- he called her essentially accurate claim "offensive," hyperbolically asserting that "America had just witnessed one of the most outrageous acts of liberal bias in history."

Sheffield isn't engaging in media analysis -- he's trying desperately to spin for Mitt Romney, repeating conservative talking points without regard for their accuracy. That's the mark of partisan activist, not a media analyst.

The rest of the MRC soon doubled down on Sheffield's version of transcript trutherism to further attack Crowley. Brent Bozell ranted -- as if he's capable of doing anything else -- in an Oct. 17 MRC press release:

Candy Crowley was an utter disaster last night, and was, by far, the worst moderator of the 2012 election.

The Libya cover-up continues, and the national news media need to start asking some tough questions – including questions about one of their own. If Obama was correct that on Day 1 he said it was a terrorist attack, why did his UN ambassador say on five different national interviews that it was a YouTube video that was responsible, and who put her up to it?

If he saw this as a terrorist attack from the very beginning, why did the president himself blame it on a video six times during a UN speech? Why has he made the statement so many times, as has Hillary Clinton, as has Jay Carney, as have others?

And why did Candy Crowley validate this lie?

If the national media don’t start asking these questions soon, they also will be guilty of enabling a massive cover-up.

The rest of the release reiterated Bozell's remarks, while providing absolutely no evidence to back them up.

Other MRC writers joined in the doubling down:

  • TimesWatch writer Clay Waters declared that "it's quite correct to say that Obama did not call the attack an 'act of terror.'" He also complained that New York Times writers " falsely insisted that President Obama had called the Benghazi attacks 'an act of terror.'"
  • NewsBusters' Tom Blumer grumbled: "Candy Crowley, her establishment press excuse-makers (for her and President Obama), and supporters of the President are going to have to resort to finding penumbras emanating from Obama's September 12 Rose Garden appearance -- y'know, the one during which the press and Democrats insist that the President really, really did call the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya a terrorist attack." Like the rest of his MRC brethren, Blumer ignores that Obama did not specifically exclude Benghazi from his reference to "acts of terror."
  • communications director Craig Bannister declared that "Obama did utter the words 'act of terror' - saying that such acts will not 'shake' America - but, did not specify that the attack on the U.S. embassy was such an attack."

An Oct. 18 MRC press release complained that "NBC and ABC continued to run interference for President Obama last night by participating in the cover-up of his lie regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi," then quoted Bozell saying that "Jan Crawford and CBS News deserve credit for exposing Obama’s deception and criticizing CNN’s Candy Crowley for her role in validating the President’s lie." But at no point did Bozell or the MRC explain what the purported "lie" is.

Bozell kept up his lie about the "lie" in his Oct. 19 column, in which he ranted that Obama "lied, claiming he’d labeled the Libya attack as an act of terrorism," while Crowley, in "her first (and hopefully last) attempt as a presidential debate moderator," "leapt to Obama’s defense, declared a lie a truth." Again, there's no explanation of what the "lie" is.

Apparently, Bozell believes that if he shouts "Obama lied" long and loud enough, his own lie will no longer be one.

Collateral damage

The MRC even attacked media figures who weren't even directly taking part in the debates.

Rich Noyes launched a pre-emptive pre-debate attack on ABC host George Stephanopoulos, bashing his allegedly "pro-Democratic" record on debate analysis and complaining that "in eight out of the last nine general election presidential debates (every one since he joined ABC News in 1997), Stephanopoulos has gone on his network’s airwaves to claim victory for the Democratic candidate, all in the guise of offering impartial analysis."

But Noyes offered no evidence that Stephanopoulos' view of those debates deviated from that of general public -- in fact, Stephanopoulos' opinion of the outcome of the 2008 debates accurately reflected the opinion of the American public as indicated by post-debate polling.

Nevertheless, when Stephanopoulos picked Romney the winner of the first debate, the MRC was a bit flummoxed that he would continue to reflect public opinion. From an Oct. 4 NewsBusters post by the MRC's Matthew Balan:

ABC's George Stephanopoulos carried a eight-out-of-nine record of declaring the Democratic presidential candidate the winner into Wednesday night's Obama-Romney presidential debate. Surprisingly, the Clinton administration veteran affirmed that Mitt Romney scored points on President Obama: "I think Governor Romney definitely more crisp in his presentation tonight....he was able to be aggressive without being offensive."

Again, post-debate polling found that the majority of Americans thought Romney won the debate. It's not surprising at all -- the MRC simply chooses to play partisan politics by blaming everything it doesn't like on "liberal bias," even when the facts prove them wrong.

Bozell likes Schieffer

Even though Noyes hurled the usual pre-bashing of Schieffer's purported bias before the final debate -- again failing to mention Schieffer's personal relationship with Bush -- there was virtually no post-debate fallout.

Bozell reiterated his praise for the male moderators in his Oct. 24 column. "Old PBS hand Jim Lehrer let the candidates debate, and for that he was savaged by liberals for 'losing control' of the evening," He also wrote that "liberal CBS anchorman Bob Schieffer did it right. He moderated without asserting his own political opinions. Indeed, if this was all you had as a compass, you'd never know where he leaned."

But Bozell's column is headlined "Say No to Feisty Liberal Moderators," and the feistiness he's complaining about didn't come from Lehrer or Schieffer:

In the second debate, ABC's Martha Raddatz demanded fiscal specifics (and then complained she wasn't getting them) from Paul Ryan, but refused to demand the same from Joe Biden. By the end of the evening, she was interrupting so much it seemed like she was interrupting Biden interrupting Ryan.

In the third debate, CNN's Candy Crowley outraged viewers at home by selecting questions from clearly left-wing "undecided voters." She then compounded the error by enabling Barack Obama in his Libya lies. Liberal in the media rallied around Crowley like she'd scored the winning touchdown.

Welcoming a feisty moderator sounds like a terrible idea — at least as long as the Republicans keep lining up a unanimous cast of four media liberals to do the moderating.

Welcoming a feisty female moderator sounds doubly terrible to Bozell, it seems.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence that the two debate moderators Bozell found too "feisty" -- along with the rest of the MRC -- were both female. Make of that what you will.

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