Skip’s debate takes: Moderators and mute buttons

So, you don’t need me to provide another take on the performance of the two candidates. But, as someone who has done quite a bit of moderating of local forums and debates (albeit for much, much, much lower stakes than a presidential debate), I would like to defend those who think Chris Wallace could have done more to stop the train wreck.

I thought he did everything possible to keep things in line. I thought his questions for both candidates were tough and fair. To wit, he held Trump to account on the question of white supremacy and confronted Biden directly on packing the court. And, even given all the interrupting and insults, other policy ground was covered.

The fact that my Twitter timeline featured pretty equal complaining about his impartiality from D’s and R’s tells me he ended up down the middle. Mainly, I thought he fought valiantly to maintain order. To those who thought he should have done more in that regard, my question is: How?

Remember, moderators have no power except the microphone in front of them. And these are pretty important, strong personalities standing on the stage. I thought Wallace was as strong as he could be attempting to control the candidates.

I also want to address the suggestions that moderators should be able to “mute the microphone” as some sort of debate elixir. I’m not so sure about that, as it may allow the Law of Unintended Consequences to raise its head.

Question: Wasn’t the interrupting actually part of the content of the debate? Isn’t seeing how the candidate interact and behave under pressure important, just like their positions on policies? Can you imagine the pushback on a moderator when he/she actually uses the mute button to silence a candidate for leader of the free world?

Let’s look at it from another angle: If Trumps’ interruptions and rudeness were why he lost the debate, why would a Biden supporter want that essentially hidden from debate watchers? Also, is it really realistic to turn debates into a no-interruption zone? I mean, clearly there were TONS of interruptions last night, but that’s not to say there haven’t been any interruptions in debates over the last decades — some of them illuminating and newsworthy.

I understand and share the desire for the types of debates that we all want, but the reality is, utilizing a mute button would likely lead to more problems than it solves. And it actually might provide cover for those who are unable to restrain themselves during debates, perhaps masking a character flaw for which they should be evaluated by voters.

15Matthew Foster, Jon R. Frazier and 13 others5 Comments