Of Immoderate Moderators and Paranoid Pols

Is the press really the enemy? That was Nixon’s line – and I was in a Nixon frame of mind, having just finished the excellent book Crooked by Austin Grossman. It is a faux memoir, written in the former president’s voice, that presents an alternative history and captures his paranoia.

We share this quote and others in our media training sessions. The point is not to scare new spokespeople, but instill a healthy amount of caution when dealing with the media.

However, the Republican presidential candidates say that the press are the enemy, especially NBC/CNBC/Telemundo in the wake of last week’s debate, when a number of them bristled at the questions.

Now, it is kind of funny to watch them fall over each other, trying to get a better debating deal, and turn the episode into an advantage.

It was even funnier to hear Obama’s rejoinder at an event the other night:

“Have you noticed every one of these candidates say…when I talk to Putin, he’s gonna straighten out! Just lookin at him it’s gonna be…and then, it turns out, they can’t handle a bunch of CNBC moderators!”

So what gives, is this all just posturing? Should the Republicans expect fair moderators and substantive questions? Shouldn’t they be able to handle all types of interviews? Was Obama just taking a cheap shot? Were they going for the easy applause line (and dodging answers) when they ranted about the media?

To even ask these questions, one needs to ignore certain realities, and believe:

  • The debates are more about substance than entertainment
  • CNBC just wants to do their civic duty and doesn’t care about getting a big audience
  • It’s possible to find moderators without any bias
  • Politicians say things because they really believe them, and not for effect

Once, just once it would be nice if they surprised us and didn’t fall into their usual predictable roles.

So will the Republicans take their football and go home – i.e. Fox News – for the next debate?

Now that wouldn’t be as entertaining, would it?

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