Debating the moderators

In one of the most fiercely partisan eras in American politics, David Gregory managed to do the impossible. Republicans and Democrats will never agree on who won Monday night’s debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, but they found common ground on one sure thing:  The Meet the Press host did an appalling job as moderator.

Gregory should be “flogged through the streets for wasting everyone’s time,” said Esquire’s Charles Pierce.

At least Gregory can look on the bright side: Most of the brickbats rained down on him after he finished the job. Jim Lehrer, moderator of tonight’s first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, is being raked over the coals before he’s even had a chance to ask a question.

Presidential debates usually stir up their own moderator controversies, and Election  2012 is no exception. The New York Times reported that the well-respected former PBS NewsHour anchor and veteran moderator of 11 presidential debates is “outraged” by suggestions that he was a “‘safe’ and uninspired choice” to handle the first forum.  Although candidates don’t get specific questions in advance, Lehrer has also taken some heat by revealing the broad categories he intends to cover. (Here are some questions that The Washington Post notes probably won’t be asked.)

The rest of the moderator lineup, Martha Raddatz of ABC News, Candy Crowley of CNN, and Bob Schieffer of CBS News, has come in for criticism for being too predictable or too white or too old.

In The Atlantic, Emerson College’s Carole Simpson, the former ABC News anchor and the first woman to moderate a presidential debate, argued that women moderators are marginalized. The female journalist usually gets stuck with the vice presidential debate or the town hall forum, becoming no more than “the lady with the microphone,” she said.

During the 1992 town hall debate among President George H. W. Bush, Gov. Bill Clinton, and H. Ross Perot, Simpson navigated the audience’s questions and could not ask her own. Crowley, who has the town hall slot this year, has a similar set of rules to follow. Both Lehrer and Schieffer have free rein to come up with whatever questions they choose.  

“In an election cycle when women’s issues have shared center stage with the economy, it seems ludicrous to me that a woman will not be asking questions about health, reproduction and contraception issues,” said Simpson.

Latino journalists complained about the lack of diversity, too. Univision had its own forums with Obama and Romney last month after the Commission on Presidential Debates refused to hold a conversation on Latino issues.

“We can’t wait till 2016 to see if the commission then reconsiders and includes a Hispanic journalist,” Univision’s Jorge Ramos told National Public Radio.

Frank Fahrenkopf, the Republican co-chair of the debate commission, blamed television networks for the lack of diversity, saying that the 17-member group did not have many moderator candidates to choose from since networks have not done a good job in putting minorities in “leading roles” on television.

The commission has taken its share of incoming for the secret agreements over the years between the two parties over the debate format, including a 2004 demand that moderators agree to these “contracts” or be replaced. The commission also hasn’t persuaded moderators to seek voters’ online input on questions. Only Raddatz, the moderator of this year’s vice presidential debate, has put out a call for feedback from voters via Twitter.

Moderating a debate is one of the toughest jobs in journalism. To avoid being shot down in the twitterverse and beyond, a person has to stay out of the way and keep the debate focused on the reason everyone is tuned in: the candidates.

“The onus is on them and not us,” Schieffer told The Washington Post. “I like to think I have the ability to keep them on point and get them past their talking points, but in the end, they determine what happens.”

–GABRIELLE GURLEY

BEACON HILL

State colleges and universities receive $600 million in bond funding for new capital projects, including new buildings for the UMass Amherst, Boston, and Lowell campuses, the AP reports (via WBUR).

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A state survey of the incidence of fires in 13 municipalities in 2011 finds Fitchburg is the most dangerous. The Eagle-Tribune reports Lawrence had fewer fires than in 2010 but ranked high in terms of arson as a suspected cause of fires.

The family of a Guatemalan immigrant who died in police custody in 2010 is suing six New Bedford police officers and the city for civil rights violations and wrongful death.

The Fall River City Council is deciding between a residency preference and a residency requirement for new city workers.

A special Tewksbury town meeting approves the use of Community Preservation Act funds for new tennis courts and OKs construction of a turf field with the help of a state grant, the Lowell Sun reports.

Middle-income housing stock in Central Square is becoming more scarce, the Cambridge Chronicle reports.

An attempt by three Cambridge city councillors to drop a lawsuit against the phone-based livery service Uber was stopped by fellow city council member Marjorie Decker.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

A gang of eight senators plans to meet to explore ways to steer clear of the fiscal cliff, Politico reports.

ELECTION 2012

Republican state Rep. Dan Winslow and Democratic state Sen. Dan Wolf have at it on Monday night’s US Senate debate in this CommonWealth “Face to Face” video conversation.

Keller@Large says the Brown-Warren race has become devoid of depth and facts. The Globe fact-checks some claims from Monday night’s debate. The Boston Herald says a “stunning” 338,000 viewers tuned in for the debate (which it cosponsored), but that’s almost 100,000 less than tuned in for the first debate on WBZ, according to Channel 4 tweets.  Gaffes from Monday night’s debate are already finding their way into the candidates’ attacks on each other, the Herald reports.

The Globe reports that neither Brown nor Warren has been completely forthcoming in providing information on clients they have represented in their law practices.

The Globe previews tonight’s first presidential debate in Denver. Debate “zingers” have not historically been particularly game-changing, writes The New Republic’s Nate Cohn. An NPR poll has Obama leading Romney 51-44. A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll has Obama ahead 49-46. Time explores the bending of truth in the presidential race. The National Review gives Mitt Romney some pointers on whaling away at Obamacare while defending Romneycare.

Another Democratic member of the House, this time from Maryland, joins with US Rep. John Tierney in attacking Republican Richard Tisei’s candidacy, the State House News reports.
(via Gloucester Times).

Republican Joseph Salvaggi, challenging US Rep. Stephen Lynch in the Eighth Congressional District, told the Patriot Ledger editorial board yesterday the country is heading “off a cliff” because of debt.  Lynch, in a separate meeting, told the board Republicans are going to have to move off their “no taxes” mantra if anything is going to get done to relieve the debt.

The Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, a right-wing, Republican-affiliated group, has filed an ethics complaint against the Democratic challenger to state Rep. Geoff Diehl of Whitman.

Slate looks at a potential path to victory for Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The Boston Herald reports that the new Millennium Towers plan is spurring retail development in Downtown Crossing.

CHARITY

A survey by the Center of Philanthropy at Indiana University finds that many affluent donors do not plan to increase their giving or even give less until at least 2017.

EDUCATION

Changing the Boston public schools student assignment system could force thousands of students out of their current schools.

Boston-based Boundless is offering college students a cheap way to buy virtual textbooks, but textbook publishers say the company is engaging in theft, WBUR reports.

HEALTH CARE

US News & World Report says most health plans are piling costs onto consumers as premiums are lowered. The magazine runs out its first ever analysis of 6,000 health plans nationwide and its state-by-state rankings of the best.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

A Chinese-owned firm in the US sues President Obama for blocking a wind farm in Oregon on national security grounds, the BBC reports.

A court appeal against a proposed 20,000-panel solar farm in Dartmouth can now move forward after a bylaw that bans industrial energy projects in residential areas was upheld.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

A Beverly man offers to donate $100 for a MassPIRG membership, but expected a lot more from the college student going door-to-door, the Salem News reports.

MEDIA

Paul Levy bemoans the use of sources to launch personal attacks or allow officials to engage in vendettas.

An Attleboro Sun Chronicle photo of Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd smiling at the camera as he makes a diving touchdown catch goes viral.