No, Candy Crowley Did Not Show Any Favoritism

Before last night's debate, both the Obama and Romney camps expressed their concern that moderator Candy Crowley might go rogue and act like something resembling a journalist, not merely keeping time and introducing questioners but interjecting to get clarifications and ask follow-ups. Once the debate was over, it was only conservatives complaining about her.

Some found her biased from start to finish, but all criticized her for her intervention on the somewhat absurd question of what words President Obama used and when to describe the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. But a close look at what went on in the debate reveals that Crowley was actually judiciously even-handed, and if anything, may have done more favors for Romney. Before we discuss how, here are some of the reactions from the right:

  • "We're done with the second presidential debate, but it was apparent 45 minutes in that between the questions Crowley chose and her handling of who was allowed to speak and when, that this debate was a total and complete setup to rehabilitate Barack Obama."

John Nolte,

  • "Candy Crowley, the CNN moderator in charge of tonight's debate, covered for President Obama by endorsing his false narrative of the killings in Libya."

John Fund, National Review

  • "I thought the questions, prescreened by Candy Crowley, were for the most part indistinguishable from questions the Obama campaign might as well have drafted for her. Nearly every one was asked from a fundamentally liberal premise."

Jonah Goldberg, National Review

  • "Ms. Crowley's decision to buttress Obama’s declaration that Romney was being dishonest on Libya, however, will go into the Republican Party's media-bias file for decades to come."

Matt Latimer, Daily Beast

  • "Make no mistake, this was an attempt to cover for President Obama, who has been bleeding on the issue all week."

Erick Erickson,

Plenty of other conservatives asserted that Crowley was incorrect on the Libya question but didn't charge her with being in the tank for Obama. We'll address the Libya question specifically in a moment, but let's look at the two claims being made about Crowley: that she chose questions that would be helpful to Obama, and that when she interjected, it was in ways that were unfriendly to Romney. Neither one holds up.

First, the questions. All the attendees submitted questions they would like to ask the candidates, and Crowley chose those which would be asked. There were 11 questions asked of the candidates. By my count, 5 were neutral, 3 should have pleased the Romney team, and 3 should have pleased the Obama team. First, the neutral ones:

  • "Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. Can—what can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?"
  • "[Governor] Romney, what do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society?"
  • "President Obama, during the Democratic National Convention in 2008, you stated you wanted to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. What has your administration done or plan to do to limit the availability of assault weapons?"
  • "The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?"
  • "Each of you: What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?"

You might argue that the gun question was unfriendly to Obama, since the real answer is that he has done absolutely nothing to limit the availability of assault weapons and has no plans to do anything in his second term, but we can set that aside. On the other hand, you could say that the immigration question, since it called immigrants "productive members of society," came from a more liberal perspective, but it was hardly hostile to Romney's position on the issue. The outsourcing question may have teed up criticisms Obama likes to make of Bain Capital, but it also gave Romney the opportunity to repeat his messages about job creation. In short, though you might quibble about one or another of these, none of them was particularly skewed in favor of one candidate or another.

There were, however, three questions that seemed quite favorable to Obama:

  • "Governor Romney, you have stated that if you're elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue. Concerning the—these various deductions—the mortgage deduction, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also the—oh, what's that other credit? Oh, I remember. The education credits, which are important to me because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important for the middle class?"
  • "In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?"
  • "Governor Romney, I am an undecided voter because I'm disappointed with the lack of progress I've seen in the last four years. However, I do attribute much of America's economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush administration. Since both you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return to the policies of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?"

These questions came all in a row, which probably had conservatives throwing up their hands and insisting that the choice of questions must be biased. The first and third directly played into attacks on Romney that the Obama campaign has made, and while pay equity hasn't been discussed much in the campaign, the second question certainly came from a more liberal perspective (assuming that men and women ought to earn the same amount!). If these eight were the only questions asked during the debate, those charging that Crowley intentionally picked questions friendlier to Obama might have a case. But here are the remaining three questions, all addressed to the President:

  • "Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it's not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?"
  • "Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I'm not that optimistic as I was in 2012. Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive."
  • "This question actually comes from a brain trust of my friends at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola yesterday. We were sitting around talking about Libya, and we were reading and became aware of reports that the State Department refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans. Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?"

The first and third questions could have come straight from a comment thread on a conservative web site or a listener of Sean Hannity's radio show; these are things conservatives have been steamed about for years, in the case of Secretary Chu, and weeks, in the case of Libya. As for the second question, the disillusioned Obama voter has been a major theme of the Romney campaign ever since their focus groups revealed that people who voted for Obama in 2008 but were now on the fence didn't want to hear the President bashed. The Romney campaign has aired ads trying to convince former Obama voters that it's OK to vote against the president; this theme is reinforced with a super PAC campaign called "Why I Changed My Vote." So that question was one they couldn't have been happier about.

So in sum, there was no evident skew to the questions Crowley chose. But what about what she herself said? It turns out that just as there were 11 questions, Crowley interjected with substantive questions or comments 11 times during the debate (beyond introducing questioners and asking the candidates to sit down and shut up already, which she had to do many times as both Romney and Obama took the time limits as nothing more than a suggestion). Some of these were clarifications or restatements of questions to get the candidates to elaborate, while a few actually went more in depth on the subject being discussed. By my count, four of those interjections were neutral, three were more favorable to Obama, and four were more favorable to Romney. My count of neutral interjections includes the one on Libya, and when you actually look back at it, you'll see why. Here they are:

  • "Governor, let me ask the president something about what you just said. The governor says that he is not going to allow the top 5 percent—I believe is what he said—to have a tax cut, that it will all even out, that what he wants to do is give that tax cut to the middle class. Settled?"
  • "He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take—it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that."
  • "IPad, the Macs, the iPhones, they are all manufactured in China, and one of the major reasons is labor is so much cheaper here. How do you convince a great American company to bring that manufacturing back here?"
  • "Let me go to the president here, because we really are running out of time. And the question is can we ever get—we can't get wages like that. It can't be sustained here."

Once again, you could quibble about the first one—Crowley is essentially repeating what Romney argued and asking Obama for a response, but I suppose one might claim that any repetition of Romney's tax claims constitutes an attack on Romney, since his claims are absurd. But that's a close call. As for the third and fourth, they both came in one discussion of bringing jobs home from overseas; Crowley was trying to get the candidates to address the question of whether low-wage manufacturing jobs will ever return. That's something that doesn't inherently advantage either candidate. Finally, on the Libya question, Romney's charge had two parts: 1) Obama didn't call the Benghazi attack "terror" or "terrorism" quickly enough, and 2) It took the administration two weeks to acknowledge that the video that started the protests in Cairo was not a factor in Benghazi. As Romney and Obama were bickering over this, Crowley interjected that Obama was correct on the first point, while Romney was correct on the second point.

Why conservatives got so worked up about those two sentences Crowley spoke, I don't really know. But she was clearly clarifying for the audience—accurately—that part of Romney's charge was true and part wasn't. You can argue, as some conservatives have, that the moderator should never correct a candidate during a debate. But you can't really argue that this was somehow unfair to Romney.

On to the interjections that did actually favor one candidate or another. Here are the three that were more favorable to Obama:

  • "Governor, let's—before we get into a vast array of who said what—what study says what, if it shouldn't add up, if somehow when you get in there, there isn't enough tax revenue coming in, if somehow the numbers don't add up, would you be willing to look again at a 20 percent..."
  • "Governor, if I could, the question was about these assault weapons that once were banned and are no longer banned. I know that you signed an assault weapons ban when you were in Massachusetts. Obviously with this question, you no longer do support that. Why is that? Given the kind of violence that we see sometimes with these mass killings, why is it that you've changed your mind?"
  • "So if I could, if you could get people to agree to it, you'd be for it."

The first question is hardly unfair or biased, it simply asks Romney what he plans to do if he doesn't have enough revenue. Given the controversy over the size of Romney's phantom list of high-end deductions which he claims will pay for the rate cuts he proposes, it seems a perfectly legitimate question. But we can score that one as favorable to Romney. I've counted the last two as distinct interjections, because they were separated by some comments by Romney about guns. In the second, Crowley does introduce a new piece of information, which is that Romney signed an assault weapons ban as governor but now opposes such a ban. While it's a highly relevant fact in a discussion about assault weapons, it may have been something she could have left for Obama to bring up or not.

So that's three interjections favorable to Obama. Here are the four favorable to Romney:

  • "Just quickly, what can you do—we're looking at a situation where 40 percent of the unemployed have been unemployed for six months or more. They don't have the two years that Jeremy has. What about those long- term unemployed who need a job right now?"
  • "Mr. President, let me just see if I can move you to the gist of this question, which is are we looking at the new normal? I can tell you that tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up, and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon. Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?"
  • Mr. President, could you address—because we did finally get to gas prices here—could you address what the governor said, which is: If your energy policy was working, the price of gasoline would not be $4 a gallon here. Is that true?"
  • "I want to ask you something, Mr. President, and then have the governor just quickly. Your secretary of state, as I'm sure you know, has said that she takes full responsibility for the attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Does the buck stop with your secretary of state as far as what went on here?"

The first, second and third interjections focus on the conditions Romney has been hammering Obama on, the long-term unemployed and high gas prices. In the first, she brings in new information reiterating how bad the employment situation is; in the second she challenges Obama on gas prices, and in the third she repeats Romney's attack on Obama. In the fourth case, she focuses the Libya question on the who-knew-what-and-when that Republicans are working so hard to use to turn this into a scandal.

All right, so that's a lot of parsing. But it shows two things. First, when you actually go through everything that happened in this debate, there's just no honest way to argue that Candy Crowley was biased in Barack Obama's favor. And second, it's understandable that partisans would have an initial, impressionistic interpretation that things were unfair to them. It's a variant of what's called the Hostile Media Effect (I discussed it here), in which people interpret news coverage that's favorable to their side as accurate and fair, and coverage unfavorable to their side as unfair and motivated by bias. It's understandable, but it's not necessarily true.


I'm sure Republicans would rather have seen one of the talking heads guarding the inhabitants of Bullsh*t Mountain moderating things. Fox News is a propaganda machine which dumbs down America by the day through disinformation and their slanted agendas. See their anchors spewing forth feces from their mouths in my visual homage to the network on my artist’s blog at

I'm just glad the debate is over and that Obama won. Candy Crowley is one of the most respected people in her line of work. Watch what is at stake in this election. It's 3 minutes worth of teapublican madness.

I think another element to it is that Romney is more combative to the moderator. When the moderator does her job, it comes across more vividly as being unfair, even though what she's doing is making the debate more fair.

Romney insists on setting the terms for everything; he makes his own rules, and when he gets called out on it, on not playing fairly, it's the fault of the enforcer and not the rule breaker.

This is, interestingly, contradictory to the victim stance that Republicans take on immigration (i.e., don't blame me, I'm just enforcing a law).

I recall watching the president’s 9/12 Rose Garden remarks about the Benghazi events of 9/11.

Those events had been presented in the media as rioting over a video similar to what had happened in Cairo, but during which our ambassador to Libya was somehow taken by the enraged mob and killed.

Listening to Obama on 9/12, it seemed to me he used any variant of the word “terrorism” only once, to say something like “No act of terrorism will diminish our fidelity to American values,” or some such thing.

And it struck me as odd, at the time, since he clearly intended that sentence to refer to the killing of the ambassador, a murder that up to that moment neither he nor anyone else had, I think, said was terrorism.

Nor did he, of course, actually say that, himself, on 9/12 with that single sentence or any other; and neither did he say anything at all that entailed it was, though given the context it was fairly clear, I thought, that he expected us, his auditors, to understand it to be covered by his “No act of terrorism” remark.

All the same, both then and for days – maybe weeks – after, he and others in the administration and other leading Democrats and authors of liberal comment spoke of mass street rioting in Benghazi, blamed the ambassador’s death on rioters, and blamed the rioting itself on an inept video in which Mohamed is played as either Dumb or Dumber, I found it hard to tell.

Many of these people even forthrightly demanded changes in US law and, if necessary, in the Constitution or at least our reigning understanding of it, to punish just exactly what the rioters of Cairo and the evil mullahs with their damned fatwas are forever demanding we punish, not right along with speech or expression offensive to any other religion but only what is offensive to theirs because their religion, as we all had damned well better know, being the last revelation of Allah to the last of his true Prophets, is unique and must be respected by everyone in the world, everywhere, whether Muslim or not, in the manner dictated by murdering Muslim savages.

Zbigniew Brzezinski made such demands, for example, emphatically and unashamedly, though he should certainly have been ashamed, on Morning Joe.

And in this way what was in fact simply a successful al-Qaeda terrorist attack aimed specifically at killing the ambassador, planned for many months and unaccompanied by any rioting, that would certainly have undermined the administration’s claims to have al-Qaeda on the run and its bragging at having killed Osama bin Laden, was hidden from public view for a little while, anyway, behind a completely false narrative of mob rioting over a video that would in any case, even if there had been rioting, have been no more than a pretext for mass demonstrations on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, clearly intended to express support for Jihad, Islamism, terrorism, and al-Qaeda’s war against America and to demonstrate the utter failure of America to tame or even diminish the power of any of those enemies.

Who really thinks that smokescreen was an accident?

If you think so you probably believe the report of the Warren Commission on the assassination of Jack Kennedy!

Mr Waldman

There could be some quibbles about the selection of questions but I will concede that they were, as a group, not particularly biased. The same cannot be said about Crowley's behavior.

While I find it absolutely absurd to think that Obama's vague reference to "acts of terror" qualified as a definitive statement (it is MUCH more reasonable to infer from the context that he is avoiding labeling Benghazi a terrorist act while leaving himself a weasle word escape hatch for the future) it is even more absurd for a moderator to decide that it was definitive enough to justify breaking the agreement between the two parties and acting as an advocate for Obama. it is even more disturbing that she had the transcript in hand and readily available - I do not know about collusion but it certainly seems like she had a rhetorical trap set for Romney that is completely despicable. consider also that once again, Obama ended up with more speaking time , she allowed him to "finish" when it was Romney's turn 3 times, No wonder Romney had to be so aggressive, he would not have gotten a word in edgewise if left to Crowley.

Over the next several election cycles, the CNNs , PBSs, MSNBCs of the world will either adapt or die in a marketplace that no longer tolerates this bias. The edge will fade for the left wing world but only if we continue to call out this nonsense and challenge people like you.

The issue of whether the attack on our consulate in Benghazi was planned or spontaneous is absurd. It was a terrorist attack. Why are people trying to differentiate? Are they implying that if the attack was spontaneous, it was conducted by a bunch of wonderful people whose feelings were hurt because of a YouTube viedo? B.S. In fact, it could have been planned and spontaneous. The terrorist could have been planning and attack and the video was the match that lit the fire. It is disgraceful that this horrendous incident has been politicized. As a former member of the US Foreign Service, I am disgusted with the ugliness of the attack but also of the ugliness of the GOP politicians who have no regard or respect for those killed and want to make this a political issue. .

You say "Crowley interjected that Obama was correct on the first point, while Romney was correct on the second point." She was not correct on the second point, as the New York Times reporting from a reporter who actually talked to the perpetrators is that they were enraged by the video.

First, let me make clear my bias: I'm a socialist so neither of these two candidates does much for me, I realize that some GOP people believe that Obama is a socialist but to that I can only say, you need to get out more. My wife and I just came back from Iceland where, among other adventures, we met with people from the Social Democratic Alliance - the largest party in the governing coalition - who described Obama as a "center-right politician" - exactly my take on his politics.

Having said this, there are two things that strike me about this argument re the 2nd debate. The first is, why does anyone think that the "best" debater" will therefore be the best president? I took debate in HS and we learned to make the most of our position without regard to truth, facts, etc.

The second thing that strikes me is the difference in response by advocates of the two candidates to the two debates. After the first debate - which my non-socialist friends dragooned me into watching - both Dems and Reps seemed to agree that Obama did poorly (I thought it was a "piss poor" performance as we used to say in the South where I grew up.) No one ran around saying "it was the moderator's fault (altho if Jim Lehrer's presence counts as moderating, this is a gig I want to get!). Yet after the 2nd debate (where, in all honesty - something that was in short supply by one of the candidates - at least based on the analysis of various fact checking groups) the Romney supporters keep arguing that is was the moderator's fault. Why this defensive posture? Is it that Romney supporters cannot imagine that their guy might not dominate and that failure to do so must be somebody elses fault? Again, as a socialist I don't have a dog in this fight but the differential willingness to connect to and acknowledge reality is striking. Maybe my Dem party friends are right when they say I should stick with the reality caucus?


What is it that makes you believe that dependency is superior to independence? What makes you think that you were properly educated in the purpose of debate? Given your education regarding debate what makes you think that partisan news media can be depended upon to present factual analyses? Bear in mind that a number of actually objective sources have found that none of the so called fact checkers limits themselves to actual fact. If you are unaware of that then perhaps you ought to do some research for yourself rather than depend upon those with political agendae of their own.

Any objective reading of president Obama's transcripts and writings illustrates that he is a self described anticolonialist and socialist. Read his own speeches and compare them to his actions, read his books and, most importantly, read some history.

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