1. The remaining debates: Tell us the rules
Two weeks ago there was an interesting story in the Huffington Post about how the rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates are likely to be highly detailed, down to the permissible lighting and camera shots, how the moderators are supposed to ensure a balance in each candidate’s allotted time during any back-and-forth, and even a provision for the screening of notepaper the combatants could bring to the podium (to make sure it was blank).
The HuffPo report drew on a leaked 31-page contract the commission executed with the campaigns of President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry in 2004, and noted that “eighteen good-governance and media watchdog groups” have now demanded that this year’s contract be publicly disclosed.
But why is the press waiting for the commission and the campaigns to disclose what they obviously want to keep under wraps? Why hasn’t some reporter pried loose the text or at least the highlights of the 2012 contract? There must be a half-dozen or more operatives in each camp, plus at least as many debate commission officials, who know.
With the controversy over moderator Jim Lehrer’s allegedly too-laid-back performance in the first Obama-Romney debate, the actual rules seem more relevant now than ever. This is especially true because the second presidential debate, on Oct. 16, has a town hall format. That means that beyond the moderator’s stipulated role, there are all kinds of issues related to the choice of the audience, the nature and selection of the questions they can ask, and what kind of follow-up is allowed from the citizen-questioners or the moderator. Any of these dynamics could be pivotal, which is why the 2004 contract included a whole series of special clauses governing only that town hall format.
These are the election’s most important events. Can’t one of the hundreds of reporters covering campaign 2012 find out what rules have been negotiated and what the moderator is supposed to do if they are violated?