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BLITZER’S BLOG: More goes into moderating a debate than meets the eye
September 13th, 2011
03:01 PM ET

BLITZER’S BLOG: More goes into moderating a debate than meets the eye

By CNN's Wolf Blitzer

(CNN) – Moderating a presidential debate is not easy. That is especially true when you have eight candidates on the stage – each one eager to get as much time as possible to make his or her points.

Four years ago, I moderated five CNN presidential debates. Some had eight or even nine candidates on the stage. The final one I did had only two – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

But I was still surprised Monday night at the CNN/Tea Party Republican Debate in Tampa, Florida at how complicated it can be.

For a moderator, the natural inclination is to give the top-tier candidates most of the time. Top-tier status is always defined by their standing in the polls. But I knew that would not be fair, especially because there have been many occasions when the early front-runners simply collapse out there on the campaign trail. Think Rudy Giuliani.

As much as possible, I wanted to give everyone equal time.

Beyond that, I personally wanted to hear not only from Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann, but also from Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman. As all of you know, I am a political news junkie – have been my whole life.

When I was on the stage Monday night in Tampa, I also was paying very close attention to what the candidates were saying. I knew I would have to follow up if their answers cried out for more detail. I also knew that I needed to give those candidates who were criticized an opportunity to respond.

On top of that, I had a whole list of questions I wanted to get through and I knew the clock was ticking.

In short, while it may look easy, I think I speak for all of my fellow television debate moderators when I say it’s not. Juggling all those balls is hard. It takes lots of homework and preparation, and lots of concentration.

One final note: I had lots of behind-the-scenes help. Our CNN producers and researchers were wonderful, and I am grateful to them. We worked hard preparing those questions, and all that work paid off.

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Filed under: 2012 election • Debates • Wolf Blitzer
soundoff (120 Responses)
  1. Michael Pierone

    I feel so sorry for you Mr. Blizer. Clearly you were under instructions not to let Ron Paul speak about the Fed. How else can you explain ignoring the man who made this an issue in the first place?

    I don't understand why you decided that the question about how much money we should be allowed to keep had to be handled by John Huntsman, and NO ONE else, when clearly it was tailor made for Ron Paul.

    By the way, you allowed virtually EVERY candidate to LIE about the Federal Reserve. It was not created to manage SOUND MONEY, but to destroy the very concept of SOUND MONEY. Unless you consider losing over 90 percent of the value of the dollar since the Fed's creation a mere accident of history. Why interview the recent converts to the concept of Sound Money when you can interview the Teacher.

    Prior to Ron Paul, who ever even talked about sound money?

    But thank goodness we have CNN and MSNBC to steer us towards the "front runners" why do we even hold elections, shouldn't the Press just announce who the next President is going to be?

    I humbly thank you for allowing us to even see Ron Paul. I am shamed that I have considered voting for someone not pre-approved by my Corporate masters.

    Representative Democracy means voting for the people the press tell you are the REAL candidates.

    For those of you who STILL don't get it, you are ill advised to vote for anyone who tells the truth, you might upset the people who are really in charge. Pay attention, we'll tell you who to vote for.

    September 17, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  2. Derek

    It's pretty clear that the Ron Paul Forums are directing traffic here to this blog, therefore the comments are obviously slanted in his favor and are going to complain about the perceived (from their view) lack of coverage. The fact of the matter is that being totally unbiased, this is the most time Ron has received in any debate on a major news channel. If anything, the Paul supporters should be thanking you for the increase in time. However to be fair, the expectation from the audience is that each candidate get equal time to present themselves so the people themselves get to decide ... not the news network or the political party itself sponsoring the debate who wants to slant it in favor of the establishment candidates.

    Do not listen to the Paul supporters as they are presenting a very biased and inaccurate view. The fact of the matter is that this was the most evenly balanced debate in terms of time that I have seen thus far on a major news network ... for this debate and the 2008 primary debates.

    Please keep up the good work, continue this trend, and set the example for integrity for other networks to follow.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • Debbie

      To be politically correct, the time spent on all the candidates was not equal. When Wolf said he was going to equal it out between all the candidates, he lied. I got paper and pen and kept count. Perry got twice as much as Romney, a little over half more on Bachmann and three times as the other five. Nothing was balanced. It would be great if debates were equal and all runners were given an equally fair shot. The media needs to butt out.

      September 16, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
  3. Greg, Ontario

    Great job Wolf.

    September 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  4. Not impressed by media blackout of Ron Paul

    Wolf, you and CNN continue to show complete bias against Ron Paul in your recent debate. Ron Paul polls third nationally, well ahead of Bachmann who runs a distant fourth, yet you tout Bachmann as a frontrunner and tell the audience that Ron Paul is not included in the list of frontrunners. Ron Paul polls third nationally, yet you gave virtually every other candidate more air time than Ron Paul. You excluded Ron Paul from a question you asked several other candidates about, whether they would audit the Fed, when Ron Paul authored all the Congressional bills to audit the Fed, and nobody else on the stage had anything to do with the Fed, and Ron Paul virtually singlehandedly has brought scrutiny of the Fed into the presidential campaign by working tirelessly for 30 years to bring the issues of the Fed to the attention of the American public. And your question about whether Ron Paul would allow a 30 year old without insurance who needed intensive care to die was a vicious attack, as you know that Ron Paul cannot address all of the issues related to such a loaded questions in the short number of seconds he is allowed to speak. That was a gotcha question, and you did not dare ask that same question to any other of the candidates on the stage who are critical of the United States' long trek down the road towards a welfare/socialized medicine/entitlement state. Then your post-debate polls included only three possible responses, did not allow people to vote for Ron Paul, only allowed people to vote for your three pre-selected candidates that you want to thrust upon the American people. Shame on CNN and Wolf Blitzer for such blatant bias agaisnt Ron Paul, the only candidate who has held a principled stance for freedom and the Constitution for the entire course of his political life. Ron Paul will get his ideas to the American people despite your extreme efforts to undermine his candidacy.

    September 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Debbie

      I agree. I'm hearing of more and more people that want Ron Paul to be our next president. He's a very smart man. What can you expect when a democrat is in control of a debate. CNN = Clinton News Network.

      September 16, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  5. Bobby Burns

    Thank you Wolf for a very fair moderated Tea Party debate. You were very imparticial being a Tea Party member I was impressed with you. No bias just very fair moderation.

    September 14, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  6. Susan

    Good job on almost getting Paul to quote Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol! "Are there no prisons? Are there no union workhouses?"

    September 14, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Michael Pierone

      Prisons and Workhouses? How about are their no charities? Are their no churches?

      Government has driven the cost of health care up so high that ordinary folks can't afford it any longer. Now that care can bankrupt a family thanks to all the government intervention, you characterize the ONLY person who would reverse this trend as being heartless.

      This is a Doctor who worked for charitable institutions to help the poor.

      Compassion is not measured by how willing you are to rob your neighbors through taxation.

      Compassion is measured by what you personally would do to help your neighbors. Why in God's name would you turn the care of a family member over to a ruthless bureaucracy?

      Government is not compassion, it is force. Laws don't get written with your particular circumstances in mind. You will be placed on a bed and wracked or amputated to fit. That's why they say the Law is an idiot.

      September 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  7. Jerry Marchelletta

    Wolf – thank you for the outstanding job on the Tea Party debate. In my opipnion, it was your best work since you were the top dog field guy in the first Gulf War. I felt you were very fair, did an excellent job of moving the questions around, pushed back when the candidates refused or avoided the direct question and most importantly, very responsible refereeing that was required when it was appropriate to give someone a chance to answer an allegation or statement. CNN is repositioning themselves well as a fair news outlet again and your "performance" will draw viewers who may very well have written the network off. Well done sir.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  8. Clarence D. Smart

    I am beginning to have a problem with cnn's news reporting...especially with the Republican debates. Rick Perry repeated the conservative trope that Obama's stimulus package "created zero jobs." Zero? The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says the bill lifted employment levels—by creating or saving jobs—by up to 3 million jobs. Politifact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning site, previously awarded Perry a "pants on fire" verdict for making this untrue claim in September.

    Mitt Romney claimed that President Barack Obama "cut Medicare by $500 billion," and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), more provocatively (of course) contended that the president "stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it to Obamacare." Not so. Obama's health care plan calls for saving $500 billion over 10 years, to be squeezed from payments to health care providers. The amount of Medicare spending will continue to rise. Moreover, the House GOP budget this year calls for the same level of cuts (even though Republican candidates ran against Democrats in the last election, accusing Obama and the Dems of slashing Medicare).

    Newt Gingrich boasted that he "helped balance the budget for four straight years" when he was the House Speaker. Actually, the budget was only balanced for two of the years covered by his speakership. And it was balanced partly because revenues were increased by President Bill Clinton; Gingrich opposed Clinton's tax hikes.

    Bachmann threw out another one of her favorite fake charges: By trying to raise the debt ceiling, Obama was seeking a "$2.4 trillion blank check." There's nothing true about this charge. Raising the debt ceiling only permitted the federal government to pay its bills for spending already approved; it did not provide the president with any ability to spend. (Note to Bachmann: Per the Constitution, Congress controls spending.)

    I understand that it is the interest of the news media to "stir the pot", but where does one draw the line on out-right untruths? I know that Fox News is like a country unto itself, but I had hoped that Cnn was better than that.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • 40snfabulous

      I was wondering the same thing.
      I would like an answer fro Wolf regarding all the lying that was going on unchecked.

      September 14, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  9. Jack

    The Tea Party's Republican Debate monitored by Wolf Blitzer was second to none. The way Wolf handled the questions to the candidates showed off his talent as a senior newsman. CNN and the Tea Party are to be commended too for doing a GREAT job in the format they used. Thank you.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:00 am |
  10. Andi

    Wolf, you do a wonderful job everyday. Very professional, cool, laid back your demeanor never changes. Therefore I was surprised when I saw you dance on the Ellen show. Showed another side to your personna. Keep up the great work. All the best.

    September 14, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  11. Steven

    I did not like the way that the questions and moderating went on the MSNBC debate. I did like this CNN debate much better.

    The problem that I had with the MSNBC debate was the appearance (I didn't time it with a stopwatch) they committed way to much time to the two front runners and also that MSNBC moderators made unneccesary expressions or comments that suggested they were not neutral or impartial with certain candidates or on certain questions.

    Your point in the article above that frontrunners do not always stay that way and things are fluid, I agree and the news media need to allow for that. If they only give time and attention to a couple people, it inhibits the information flow and awareness to the other candidates that may allow someone to make different choices.

    The news media are choosing the candidates that people will vote for when or if they decide to limit news coverage to only a few. How do regular non political people become aware of alternative candidates otherwise?

    September 14, 2011 at 1:38 am |
  12. Alex

    Hope for some more Ron Paul coverage. Thanks.

    September 14, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  13. TommyO

    Dear Mr. Blitzer,
    I have always considered that you were a fair guy – but your treatment of Ron Paul in the 9/12/11 debate was WRONG! To deliberately not allow Dr. Paul to answer questions regarding the Federal Reserve – WHEN HE WROTE THE BOOK ON IT – while allowing that pack of bank owned Shills to parrot his own words was disgusting!
    Mark my words, the fact that every plastic candidate on that stage was parroting Ron Paul's 2008 campaign platform lets millions of us know the liberty movement is winning! We – the decent Americans who have suffered under this corrupt oligarchy (forcing an American Empire to benefit a select group of global elites) facilitated by the mainstream media WILL WIN in the end and restore the American Republic and the rule of law.
    Poor call Mr. Blitzer to allow yourself to be used by the establishment neo-cons of Tea Party Express and the brass hats of CNN! Your ethics and credibility are now, regrettably – questionable and I am very sorry to say that to you because I thought you were better than that! I am totally disgusted with you and CNN!

    September 14, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  14. Alex

    23 year old college student here. Disappointed in the clear bias against Ron Paul, I mean who's running the show, the media or the people? Where's the balance. I would never vote for Rick Perry or Mitt Romney, and I certainly would never vote for Obama. Ron Paul has all my support despite the clear bias against him by the mainstream media.

    September 14, 2011 at 12:14 am |
  15. Hello

    Perry, Romney, Bachmann, and Paul got 2/3 of the time to speak while Cain, Huntsman, Sanitorum, and Gringrich only got about 1/3 of the time to speak. Hardly fair.

    September 14, 2011 at 12:13 am |
    • Omolade

      What if they were just asking other peolpe because everyone already knows Ron Paul's view on the Federal Reserve. I'm definitely of a liberal leaning, but I can clearly see here that Ron Paul is the smartest Republican' nominee to come into the playing field in several years. I may not agree with all of his views, but I can identify intelligence and a well-read demeanor when I see it.

      August 1, 2012 at 2:56 am |
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