Why Were Last Night’s Debaters Cut Off When They Actually Started to Debate?


Rebecca Traister, along with practically everyone on the left, is dumbfounded that the Democratic National Committee has gone out of its way to reduce viewership for its debates. The first two were both held on Saturdays, and yesterday’s debate was on the Saturday before Christmas. Do they really want to lower the profile of the party that badly? It’s a wonder anyone tuned in at all. But there’s more:

The DNC’s poor choices pale in comparison to the choices of Saturday night’s ABC News moderators, the usually terrific Raddatz and her colleague, World News anchor Muir. They did fine for the first hour, but as the candidates began to actually debate each other in compelling and important ways, Muir especially began to talk over them in an effort to cut them off and adhere to the rules. That precision reffing may be necessary when it comes to shutting down an offensive monologue from Donald Trump, or halting a candidate’s whine about not getting enough time. But when, as on Saturday, the top contenders for the nomination are engaging each other seriously about tax policy, drowning them out and preventing the audience from hearing what they have to say doesn’t do anyone any favors.

For what it’s worth, Twitter opinion on Martha Raddatz shifted so fast it almost gave me a neck sprain last night. At first everyone thought she was great. By the second hour, she was the worst moderator ever. Mostly, I think, this was because she spent too much time interrupting the candidates when she didn’t happen to like their answers. This was especially annoying since, for the most part, they didn’t really dodge or tap dance very much. They mostly provided substantive answers.

As for the “precision reffing” that cut off a potentially interesting argument, I suspect that Martin O’Malley is the person to blame here. O’Malley may be a vanity candidate at this point, but he’s still a candidate, and that means he’s supposed to get equal time in the debates. If the moderators allow Sanders and Clinton to get into long arguments, it takes away from O’Malley’s time and there’s really no way to entirely make that up. So the moderators apply the rules strictly and demand that Sanders and Clinton shut up and allow them to ask O’Malley a question.

This is one among many reasons that O’Malley needs to grow up and get out of the race. He’s polling at 3 percent in a 3-person race, and he’s doing himself no favors by stubbornly staying in. It makes him look like a sore loser, not a serious politician.