FINAL DEBATE: A note about the moderator!


Who the heck is Bob Schieffer: Last Wednesday, Rachel Maddow authored a sometimes-sensible segment about tonight’s debate.

With concern, she stressed the large number of Romney foreign policy gurus who come from George Bush’s old team. Then, she snarked a bit:
MADDOW (10/17/12): What’s the big next event in the campaign? Foreign policy debate—where Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have precisely zero experience between them combined and 17 of the campaign's 24 announced advisers on foreign policy are Bush foreign policy people.

And President Obama has frankly not even hit Mitt Romney yet for the way his foreign policy apes the catastrophic foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney years. I mean, the Romney campaign knows that punch is coming, right? How do they inoculate themselves against that? How does the Romney/Ryan campaign protect itself against the other shoe that everybody knows is about to drop, which is the withering allegation that if you squint at Romney and Ryan on foreign policy, what you know you`re going to get is act two of the Bush and Cheney foreign policy.

What’s their defense on that? Really?

Paul Ryan does a photo op today with Condoleezza Rice? Was Paul Wolfowitz not available? Yes, they had Paul Ryan go to a Cleveland Brown football practice with Condoleezza Rice today in Ohio, a practice at which Paul Ryan misidentified the Cleveland Browns quarterback and called him by the wrong name in front of a whole bunch of reporters. That the Cleveland paper noted, quote, "Ryan pleaded for mercy when he realized his mistake."
We all got to share a laugh about Ryan’s dumb stupid mistake. And Rachel expressed her shock, just shock, to think the dumb stupid Romney campaign would stage an event with Condi.

In our view, this is the sort of topic Maddow tends not to get. (Assuming she’s playing it straight.) Our assumption? They wouldn’t have Ryan out with Rice unless they had favorable polling.

Just because Rachel recoils when Condi appears, that doesn’t mean that other folk do. Some slice of the public must think well of Rice or she wouldn’t be out there.

(Note: Among other things, Rice is pro-choice. This may have been part of the effort to moderate Romney’s image on women's issues.)

That said, we noticed that Maddow skipped one famous name from Bush's extended foreign policy team. That famous name belongs to Bob Schieffer, moderator of tonight’s debate.

No, Schieffer wasn’t part of Bush's team—but his brother, Tom Schieffer, was! Tom Schieffer was Bush’s ambassador to Australia (2001-2005), then to Japan (four more years).

Before that, Tom Schieffer was co-owner of the Texas Rangers with his co-mogul, Bush. In the process, brother Bob became personal friends with the governor or soon-to-be-governor. In our view, a more meticulous journalist would not have formed that particular friendship. (Ditto for PBS' Gwen Ifill, sharing the home-cooked meals with Condi to which she once publicly copped.)

In a 2003 profile, Howard Kurtz described the good old days when Bob Schieffer would pal around with team owners rather than terrorists:
KURTZ (1/13/03): During the ’90s, [Bob] Schieffer also struck up a friendship with George W. Bush when his brother Tom—now the U.S. ambassador to Australia—became partners with the future president in the Texas Rangers. Bob and W. went to ball games together, played golf, attended spring training. “He’s a great guy—that doesn’t mean I agree with him,” says Schieffer, adding that the situation became “a little awkward” when Bush ran for the White House but that he’s never gotten favorable treatment.
"Attended spring trauining?" And by the way: On some occasions, Schieffer did give favorable treatment to Bush. But that’s a fairly old story.

Watching Maddow last week, we thought of Kevin Drum’s instant classic, “the hack gap.” Tonight’s debate is about foreign policy. Sensibly, Maddow was troubled by the number of old Bush hands who are now part of Romney’s team.

Well sir, the brother of one of those old Bush hands will be running the whole show tonight!

That’s where the hack gap comes in. The conservative world would bellow and wail if such a connection were floating around in the other direction.

Maddow didn’t mention this evening’s old boy tie. Given the way the hack gap works, we’ll guess that she may not have heard.

When Schieffer met Dubya and Kerry: Incredibly, Schieffer moderated one of the debates in 2004 between Candidate Bush, his old golf pal, and the fake phony wind-surfing Kerry.

Schieffer posed twenty questions in all. The seventh went to Candidate Kerry.

It was a different kind of question. It had never been asked before:
SCHIEFFER (10/13/04): Senator Kerry, a new question for you. The New York Times reports that some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem-cell research.

What is your reaction to that?
History was made that evening! In no previous presidential debate had a candidate ever been asked if it’s a sin to vote for him!

In his “reaction,” Candidate Kerry seemed to suggest that it wouldn’t be a sin. Schieffer asked Bush to state his views on the point, then posed the next question to him.

Here’s the way that question started. Schieffer said it was time to move on:
SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, let's have a new question. It goes to you. And let's get back to economic issues...
Might it be sinful to vote for Bush? His old golfing pal didn’t ask!

Tonight, Schieffer is back in the saddle again. We'll guess he doesn't plan to ask if it's sinful to vote for a Mormon. He’s brother to part of the old boy team whose revival has Maddow upset.


  1. IMHO Bob Somerby makes a weak case that Schieffer was a biased debate host. Somerby merely quotes one question that's arguably anti-Kerry. I think many of Raddatz's and Crowley's questions and interruptions favored the Democratic side.

    And IMHO Schieffer's question wasn't so bad for Kerry. It gave him a chance to respond to and defend himself against what some Catholic leadership were actually saying.

    Bob Somerby asserts that a parallel would be to ask Romney whether it's a sin to vote for a Mormon. But, that's not a good parallel, because it's not the case that the leadership of some major religion says it would be a sin to vote for a Mormon.

    OTOH there's objective evidence that Jim Lehrer, Candy Crowley, and Martha Radatz all biased their debate in favor of the Dems. Each of them allowed the Democratic candidate 8% to 11% more speaking time. And, the Republicans got interrupted more frequently as well according to Poynter.

    1. I guess if the Republicans can get pushed around by some wimpy ole liberals then I can only imagine how they will wither on the world stage with tough mean dictators and mean evil doers. Yep we better stick with a Democrat..Good point!

    2. David in Cal said: "Bob Somerby asserts that a parallel would be to ask Romney whether it's a sin to vote for a Mormon. But, that's not a good parallel, because it's not the case that the leadership of some major religion says it would be a sin to vote for a Mormon."

      I disagree. If Bob Schieffer were to treat Mitt Romney the same way he treated John Kerry, he would ask the following question:

      Schieffer: "Governor Romney, a new question to you. The leaders of most of the major Protestant denominations think the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a cult. You, in fact, were a bishop in the Mormon Church at one point. By their definition, that would make you a cult leader. What is your reaction to that?"

      So, David, do you think that's a fair question? Does it give Romney "a chance to respond to and defend himself against what" some of the Protestant leadership were actually saying?

    3. I agree with you Mysterion that the question about whether voting for Kerry would be a sin wasn't a fair question. I just don't think it was as biased as some of the questions asked this year.

      E.g., since I analyzed statistics for a living, I was appalled at the question about women earning 20+ per cent less than men. In fact, when you adjust for the type of work done, the years of experience, and the number of hours worked, women do earn a bit less than men, but the difference is in the neighborhood of 5%.

      Another biased question was asking Romney how he differed from Bush in a question that simply presumed that Bush was a terrible President.

      Perhaps the biggest bias IMHO was when Crowley jumped into Romney's allotted time to interrupt and prevent him from fully describing the Fast & Furious Gunrunner scandal. Aside from the American agents killed with weapons that we supplied to gandsters, and aside from the dozens or hundreds of Mexicans murdered with these weapons, the scandal is that the program had no way to achieve its supposed purpose.

    4. I don't think the issue of bias applies to ordinary Americans who, IMHO, have the privilege of asking any question that reflects their concerns.

      Regarding pay equity: A 5% difference in income between men and women is huge, David, especially if you consider what it might add up to over a lifetime. Your 5% figure is also an average. Since you analyzed statistics for a living, I'm sure you understand that the disparity in income will be a lot more than 5% for a great many people.

      The issue of pay equity is a real problem, even if women make only 5% less than men on average. The young woman who brought it up was right to do so since it will affect her life, her ability to raise a family, save for retirement, go on vacation, etc. The fact that her question made Romney look bad is not her fault, it's Romney's fault.

    5. I thought both candidates had weak responses to that question. But, my point was that even if pay inequity is a real problem, it shouldn't be introduced via a bogus statistic.

      Is 5% a big problem? The first question is whether bias is the reason why women get paid 5% less. Maybe it is. Or, maybe there are other factors that aren't easily included in a study. E.g., women take more sick days than men, according to actual studies. Within my experience, women work less overtime than men, but I can't prove that. It might also be that women are less ambitious than men. Because of these and other factors, a 5% difference is small enough that we can't rule out the possibility that it's due to on-the-job performance rather than bias.

      Anyhow, isn't it already illegal to discriminate based on sex? And, there are lawsuits that can heavily penalize an organization that discriminates by sex. So, it seems to me that government has already pretty much done what it can to solve the problem of wage discrimination by sex.

    6. Yes, it is illegal to discriminate based on sex because President Obama passed the Lilly Ledbetter Act in 2009 which made it so.

      I agree with you that Obama has "pretty much" done all he could to solve the problem, but I can't fathom why you would also think his response to the questioner was weak. How he could he have done any better than mentioning his signing of Lilly Ledbetter, which deals directly with the questioner's concern?

      I won't rule out factors other than gender discrimination that may account for some of the pay inequity. But gender discrimination is a real possibility, especially since we know that it has been a big factor in the past and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that it is still happening. I'll wait for the facts before coming to a final conclusion on the extent and reasons for pay inequity as I'm sure you will. Meanwhile, if you find some reliable studies pass them along.


    7. It's illegal to discriminate based on sex because of title VII of the civil rights act of 1964. Obama, being only 4, had little to do with its passage. The Ledbetter Act only increased the time a worker has to file a claim.

    8. Thanks for the correction, Anon.

  2. Who but Bob Somerby gives us this stuff? BRAVO!!!

  3. Well Schieffer led off with Benghazi -- in a question very much slanted against Obama (something that did not reverse itself in any question obviously tilted against Romney) -- and Romney blinked.

    Last night was very much a walk-over for Obama, as Romney's position on issue after issue overall amounted to "I would do what Mr. Obama has done, but, uh, moreso?"

    The stats on third debates are that they don't much move polling -- but it's certainly difficult to argue that Romney helped himself at all with this performance.

    To the extent that "command," "decisiveness" and "credibility" rather than knowledge of the issues are important on foreign policy (something that the Romney campaign has tried to suggest cut in their favor) -- only one man looked good.

    The other man, Romney, looked like a weak, sweaty flip-flopper.

    To the extent that knowledge matters, it was even uglier for Romney. Syria, Iran's route to the sea? It's the boat count of our navy that's important?

  4. Folks, a question is a question. Don't read too much into it. If Obama was unprepared to knock any question about Benghazi out of the ballpark, then the fault is not with Schieffer.

    Same with the "sin" question in 2004. This was a huge issue roiling among Catholics then, and Kerry really needed Catholics voting in droves for him to offset Bush's evangelical Protestant base.

    But we also had a group of archbishops and bishops openly campaigning for Bush, led by then-St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke who publicly said he would deny Communion to "pro-choice" Kerry if he attended Mass anywhere in his archdiocese. Following that, we had prelates doubling down, telling Catholics that the only issue they should concern themselves is abortion, and it would be a sin to vote for the "pro-choice" candidate.

    Now in light of that, was Schieffer's question to Kerry a "gotcha" or an opportunity to explain his position on national TV to fellow Catholics?

    And it was actually neither. It was a question that very well reflected a lively debate going on within a large segment of the voting population.

  5. Schieffer doesn't know what Susan Rice said on his very own program back on Sept. 16. He allowed McCain to 'lie his ass off' this morning on 'Face The Nation'.....Suppose it'll back to back to St.Simon's Island with Schieffer for a few days now.

  6. correction: " back to St. Simon's...."

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