Two debates, two very different debate moderators. Journalists and critics piled on presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer last week for his open-ended questions and loose grip on the reins during the debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney in Denver. When ABC News senior foreign affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz sat down Thursday to moderate the first and only vice presidential debate in Danville, Ky., it was clear she would be doing things differently.
Raddatz probed Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan with specific questions and follow-ups and took firm control of the proceedings.
“I think I was surprised I got in as many follow-ups,” Raddatz told “Good Morning America” on Friday. “You try to listen, and you try to react to what they’re saying. I had a lot of follow-ups and questions written. But when you’re there and in the moment, you really have to go with what’s happening.” She told George Stephanopoulos that both Ryan and Biden came up to her afterwards to say she was “tough” but did a “good job.”
As Raddatz’s ABC News colleague Rick Klein writes, the Commission on Presidential Debates implemented a new format this year. Lehrer’s debate consisted of six 15-minute segments, focused on domestic issues. Raddatz’s moderated a debate with nine 10-minute segments, split between foreign and domestic topics. Raddatz came up with the questions on her own, without consultation with the campaigns.
“We believe the new format proved its worth again,” Janet Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, told TPM on Friday. “Martha Raddatz focused time and attention on the candidates with effective, minimal direction.”
Here’s what some of Raddatz’s fellow reporters and contemporaries said of her performance:
A word about Raddatz: she is making the case for Jim Lehrer’s retirement. thebea.st/VWXJFt— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) October 12, 2012
Raddatz doing a great job pressing Ryan for specifics on tax plan. He’s not handling it well.#msnbc2012— msnbc (@msnbc) October 12, 2012
Have we mentioned in the past 3 minutes what a great #VPdebate Martha Raddatz is running? Yep.— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) October 12, 2012
Yo, Jim Lehrer, This Is What Killing It Looks Like: the Martha Raddatz Story— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) October 12, 2012
I’m a defender of Lehrer’s performance in the first debate, but Martha Raddatz is doing a really excellent job here.— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) October 12, 2012
Raddatz already WAY better than the last guy— Bill Maher (@billmaher) October 12, 2012
Raddatz did the republic a good service tonight. #VPDebate— Luke Russert (@LukeRussert) October 12, 2012
Conservative critics, on the other hand, accused Raddatz of being in the tank for team Obama. The conservative site The Daily Caller kicked up some dust this week, reporting that Obama attended Raddatz wedding — though it was more than 20 years ago and she has since divorced the groom.
Fox News host Sean Hannity suggested next time Paul Ryan should invite Raddatz to his wedding:
I’m sorry, but I think Martha Raddatz did an atrocious job as a moderator.She lost control of both sides repeatedly.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) October 12, 2012
Raddatz final question was her own personal editorial. Debate deserved better. #debate— Karl Rove (@KarlRove) October 12, 2012
Raddatz was not immediately available for comment.
David Taintor is TPM’s News Editor. He contributes to TPM’s Livewire coverage, among other areas. David is from Chanhassen, Minnesota, where, yes, it gets very cold. Reach him at taintor [at] talkingpointsmemo.com