Since 1972, there have been few constants in presidential campaigns, but one constant has been Monday’s presidential debate moderator Bob Schieffer.
As the moderator of the third and final presidential debate of 2012, Schieffer was in charge of asking the questions and keeping both candidates on the topic of foreign policy.
“Stylistically Bob Schieffer did a good job,” said Matthew Wilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “Schieffer did a better job than any of the previous moderators of keeping speaking time equal.”
“He gently guided them in a direction without becoming too big of a presence,” Wilson said.
For the third presidential election in a row, Schieffer moderated one of the debates. He moderated a debate between John McCain and Barack Obama as well as one between John Kerry and George W. Bush.
Schieffer divided the debate into six 15 minute segments. Schieffer, the moderator of CBS’ Face the Nation, personally chose each question for the candidates.
Wilson said Schieffer’s questions were well executed with one exception.
“All the questions were about the Middle East or East Asia,” Wilson said. “Nothing was asked to the candidates about Latin America, Europe, or Africa.”
“You had an extended debate on foreign policy between two people only talking about one section of the world.”
The first two debate moderators of 2012, Jim Lehrer and Candy Crowley drew criticism for aspects of their performances. Lehrer was accused of letting the candidates overpower him, and Crowley was criticized for interjecting her own fact checking.
“You don’t want the story of the debate to be about [the moderator],” Wilson said. “But it can be hard to interrupt the President of the United States.”
One of Schieffer’s biggest challenges was keeping the candidates on the topic of foreign policy as opposed to domestic issues.
Both Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama pivoted to domestic issues on several occasions.
In the national dialogue, Schieffer was praised for the job he did as moderator.
Steve Krakauer, the senior digital producer for CNN, tweeted during the debate.
Shout out to Bob Schieffer who has kept speaking time almost exactly the same so far. #CNNDebate #CNNDebateClock
— Steve Krakauer (@SteveKrak) October 23, 2012
The Huffington Post also tweeted support for the moderator.
Bob Schieffer holds strong! #debates
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) October 23, 2012
Roberto Bianco of USA TODAY entitled his review of Schieffer’s performance:“Bob Schieffer stays cool amid debate’s heat.”
Schieffer’s only mistake came in the second half of the debate when he mistakenly spoke the words “Obama bin Laden.”
A flood of Tweets caught Schieffer’s gaffe (6.5 million Tweets flooded the internet during the debate), but Matthew Wilson said that Schieffer’s calmness and longevity in Washington made him an effective moderator for the debate.
“A journalist with a long established reputation has an advantage in these debates,” Wilson said. “You walk a fine line between interrupting too often and allowing discussion.”
Agreeing with Wilson, Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume said that Schieffer used a light hand to guide the candidates and direct their discussion.
“I thought Bob Schieffer did a good job in the same way Jim Lehrer did which was by keeping a light hand in letting the candidates go at it as much as possible,” Hume said during post-debate coverage.
Schieffer finished the debate with a personal note. Sharing some advice that was given to him by his mother, he finished by saying, “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.”