CNN’s Candy Crowley has always seemed like a tough, sharp and relatively fair reporter. So when she said earlier this week she was going to take an active moderator role in last night’s debate, that didn’t immediately seem like a bad thing. There’s no problem with an impartial moderator keeping the candidates on topic and pressing them with follow-ups.
But by the end of the night, it was clear Crowley had done damage to her own reputation of objectivity. It wasn’t just because of the Benghazi question, either. Matt Latimer lays out the instances of bias at the Daily Beast:
By far the biggest loser of the debate (after my former boss, George W., that is) was Candy Crowley. She is one of the most seasoned political reporters in Washington, but she came very close to becoming a participant in the debate. At some points she almost lost control, then seemed to interrupt Romney more often than Obama. The president also was given more time to speak overall. Ms. Crowley’s decision to buttress Obama’s declaration that Romney was being dishonest on Libya, however, will go into the Republican Party’s media-bias file for decades to come. Enjoy that moment—you’ll be seeing it again and again for years.
As Jim Lindgren noted, Obama was also given the last word on nearly two-thirds of the questions — and not for Romney’s lack of trying.
That’s not to say Romney would have done any better (or Obama any worse) if Crowley hadn’t played an active role in the debate. Both candidates came off fine, with Democrats calling the game for Obama, and Republicans calling it for Romney. In the end, it was a small win for Obama. That was Romney’s fault for being unprepared to discuss Benghazi, and Crowley is in no way responsible.
But Crowley hurt herself by jumping to Obama’s defense on an arguable point. When Obama followed up with “Say that again, Candy” and the audience of “undecided voters” cheered, the image was a moderator and the president ganging up on the Republican candidate. What’s more, the moderator didn’t even have her facts right. As WaPo fact-checker Glenn Kessler explains why the issue is not as cut-and-dried as Crowley claimed:
What did Obama say in the Rose Garden a day after the attack in Libya? “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation,” he said.
But he did not say “terrorism”—and it took the administration days to concede that that it an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad.
Whether it was due to personal bias or incomplete information, Crowley was wrong. She had no business intervening on an ambiguous point, and as a long-time journalist, she should have been more careful.