On the heels of Pastor Rick Warren’s widely praised performance as the moderator of the recent faith-centric forum between Barack Obama and John McCain, Michael Schaffer argues in The New Republic that presidential debates, in general, might benefit by barring journalist-moderators from the stage.
"Since the debut of televised presidential debates in 1960, the job of questioning candidates and refereeing exchanges has been handled exclusively by figures from the news media," writes Mr. Schaffer. "Their professional imperatives are simple: Be tough, break news, and do it fast. That’s an appropriate mission for a 20-inch A1 story or a lead segment on the evening news. But in a political-forum setting, the quest for a scoop—and the sloganeering defensiveness it engenders on the part of the candidates—has led to gatherings long on cant and short on illumination."
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Dinner party host, in fact, isn’t a bad archetype for the ideal debate moderator, someone who keeps the conversation flowing, mediates disagreements, and shows some affection by opening up a pricey bottle of wine. A nice table for three—whether it’s presided over by a California minister, a Hollywood party host, or some big-city social doyenne with a reputation for bringing bright guests to her well-appointed table—would make for a far better evening than the awkward joint questionings we’re used to.