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From AJR,   August/September 2012  issue

Hitting It Out of the Park   

Martha Raddatz’s bravura performance as a debate moderator. Fri., October 12, 2012.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Now, that's how to moderate a debate.

A week after Jim Lehrer's debacle in the first presidential mano-a-mano, Martha Raddatz came up big.

She asked tough, pointed questions. She followed up. She called out Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan on their evasions. And despite Biden's penchant for interrupting, she generally kept the combatants on task.

The ABC senior foreign affairs correspondent set the tone right out of the gate with a tough question for Biden about security at the Libyan embassy. She relentlessly stayed after Ryan over his fuzzy math.

There was no showboating by Raddatz. The debate wasn't about her. But the highly respected correspondent left no doubt as to who was in charge.

Raddatz's performance should be a template for those moderating debates in the future.

As the debate played out, the Twitterverse swooned. A Raddatz-for president boomlet emerged. Eva Longoria sung her praises. Critic to the stars Roger Ebert gushed over her performance.

There was, of course, some dissent, largely on the right, where many felt she wasn't aggressive enough in choking off the Veep's interruptions. Fox News' Sean Hannity, snidely referring to the miniflap over the fact that Barack Obama attended one of her weddings back in 1991, tweeted, "Martha Raddatz is the worst moderator. Maybe next time @PaulRyanVP should invite her to his wedding."

Perhaps one of the reasons for Raddatz's success was that, unlike most of the debate moderators, she is a working reporter rather than an anchor or host. She takes part in the give-and-take with news sources for a living.

Let's hope the Commission on Presidential Campaigns takes note. It's not set in stone that the moderator lineup always has to include Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer. A more diverse lineup of moderators, with a heavy sprinkling of reporters, shouldn't be too much to ask.