Politico characterizes the just-announced presidential debate moderators this way:
They’re old, they’re white, and they rarely if ever use Twitter. They are also, arguably, the best people for the job.
While whether they are the best for the job is open to argument, it is indisputable that all are reliably liberal, representatives of a certain Washington mindset that hasn’t been able to grasp such developments as the rise of the Tea Party. And apparently it's okay to be all-white if you're also all-liberal.
The moderators (CBS’s Bob Schieffer, PBS’s Jim Lehrer, CNN’s Candy Crowley; ABC’s Martha Raddatz will moderate the lone vice presidential debate) were chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was established in 1987 to sponsor the debates. Frank Fahrenkopf, former head of the Republican National Committee, and former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry are co-chairmen.
There was a time when the lineup of moderators should have made the heart of a conservative sink—but no longer. Conservatives have gotten so they can field the slanted questions and use them to make their own points. The Republican primaries marked a turning point when suddenly Republican candidates knew how to score points no matter who was setting up the questions.
Sometimes, candidates are actually able to use the questioners as a foil. Newt Gingrich did this brilliantly during the Republican primary debates, though this act soon became old and outright pugnacity is always a risk. No doubt, the Romney-Ryan campaign is already talking about how to handle questions from the likes of Ms. Crowley, who said on air that she has been told by Republicans that the choice of Ryan is a “ticket death wish.” This quote alone would indicate that Ms. Crowley doesn't get out among rank and file Republicans very often.
The Politico article contained this gem from Steve Schmidt, a senior McCain strategist:
“The Commission always has to choose moderators that people are not going to dispute, and that tends to result with people who are widely respected, and have a track record of fairness,” Steve Schmidt, the senior strategist to John McCain’s 2008 campaign, told POLITICO. “Every cycle, campaigns say they’re going to take back control from the debate commission, but it never happens.”
So now you know why McCain lost, right?
If a Republican is to make a point, often doing this will require that the candidate, and by extension the public, dispute the very basis for the moderator’s question. The moderators are fair by their own lights, but this fairness comes from a perspective severely skewed towards the Democrats. If Republicans accept the premise of the questions without dispute, they are lost.
One of John McCain’s mistakes was his belief that members of the media were his friends. That was the case when he was going all maverick on his fellow Republicans, but the minute he became the challenger of Barack Obama, that became a naïve assumption on McCain’s part. Romney knows two things: these people are not his friends; he must not let them rattle him.
New York University professor Jay Rosen is quoted saying that moderators must “be soaked in the sphere of consensus.” Since the median age of the moderators is 69—72 if you don’t count Raddatz—you can bet they are pretty well marinated in the consensus of the old media Washington establishment.
This media consensus, however, is fading, thanks to the rise of cable and diminishing demand for the predictable product of the old media. But their lingering power should not be underestimated. Fortunately, the Steve Schmidt Republican is fading, too.