It says a lot about how poorly the presidential debate was moderated last night that this video left me reflecting that the judges from The Voice appear to have learned a lot more about public presentation and persuasion in three seasons than Jim Lehrer has from overseeing eleven previous presidential debates:
There were a lot of criticism launched at Lehrer last night, but to me, his most significant failing was asking the candidates repeatedly if they thought there were differences between their philosophies and positions when everyone knows they exist and are significant, rather than asking follow-ups that would have helped flesh out those differences. It’s the equivalent of asking actors how it feels to work with a co-star, the sort of query that both demonstrates that the questioner is out of other ideas, and that skates over the surface of the issues actually at stake. Or on The Voice, of defaulting to complimenting the star, rather than laying out a plan for mentoring them, as both Adam Levine and Blake Shelton have gotten very good at doing.
Moderating debates, judging competition shows, and hosting awards shows are all profoundly difficult jobs, in part because there’s no clear set of expectations for how to do them correctly. Lehrer didn’t succeed at any of them, neither defining the issues, nor controlling the flow of the argument between Obama and Romney, which was at times an intriguing free-for-all, nor asking incisive follow-up questions. I don’t envy Lehrer his job, but after eleven outings, he should at least have his own vision of what the job is.