Debate rules

Tonight is the second presidential debate, starting at 9:00 pm US Eastern time. The release of a detailed 21-page memorandum drawn up privately by the two candidates as to the rules for all the debates show how much they want to control the environment.

The specific rules for tonight’s debate can be found on pages 6 through 9.

The audience members are to be selected by the Gallup polling organization and are required to consist of people who describe themselves as ‘likely voters’ and are demographically representative of the nation as a whole. (p. 9)

It says that the audience members must submit their questions in writing in advance and the moderator will select the ones to be asked. If called upon to ask his or her question, the audience member must word it as written. The person’s microphone will be cut off if he or she veers off-script. The microphone will also be cut off immediately after the question is asked, so if the questioner is not satisfied with the answer they cannot ask for clarification or specifics.

Interestingly, the moderator is also prohibited from asking follow up questions or requesting clarifications. The candidates have also agreed not to ask each other any direct questions or to make any pledges (p. 4). All these are, of course, designed to enable the candidates to dodge awkward questions by filibustering or giving generic answers.

This has led to some alarm when the moderator of tonight’s debate Candy Crowley described her role differently from what the document called for, saying that she saw her role as being more than a mere conduit for selecting questions. She said she planned on building upon the question posed by the member of the public.

Interestingly, neither the commission that organizes the debates nor the moderators were parties to this agreement and so technically are not bound by them so it will be interesting to see if Crowley is browbeaten by the campaigns to conform or whether she goes her own way. I am actually not expecting much from Crowley even if she does deviate on this particular issue. She strikes me as one of those reporters so deeply immersed in the political-media cesspool that her deviations will not stray outside the range of conventional wisdom.


  1. says

    It’s a shame there are people willing to sit in the studio audience for these ridiculous performances. Wouldn’t it be great if the camera panned across the room accidentally and … nothing but empty chairs.

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