JIM LEHRER’S RERUN: Potted plant!


Part 1—You’ve seen last night’s movie before: Let’s start with a word about the candidates, although politicians aren’t our focus here.

Last evening’s debate was a massacre. The massacre was so complete that it was widely acknowledged by MSNBC’s pundits.

Candidate Romney was on the attack; he had a theme and a focus. Candidate Obama had little focus or framework for his evening—virtually none at all.

He started with a jumbled complaint about Romney’s tax proposal. But he seemed surprised by Romney’s (wholly predictable) reaction, then utterly faded away.

(Romney’s reaction was not a change from things he and his surrogates have been saying. Despite that, Obama seemed surprised and flummoxed. Ninety minutes later, so did the pundits on MSNBC.)

The overnight polls describe a massacre—a massacre which did occur.

That said, our focus here is on the press corps. That brings us to the performance of Jim Lehrer, a performance you’ve seen before.

It was in the first twenty minutes of last night’s debate that Romney bollixed Obama over Romney’s own tax proposal. In part, Romney did this by repeating disclaimers he has been making for weeks.

But in part, Romney accomplished this task by making misleading and confusing statements about his own proposal. And as Romney spread the confusion around, Jim Lehrer stared into air.

Lehrer made no attempt to clarify basic points of the discussion. More specifically, he failed to ask Romney to clarify the various things he was saying.

To borrow some language from long ago, Lehrer behaved like a potted plant—and this wasn't the first time! Because, just as a matter of fact, you’ve seen last night’s movie before.

You saw it twelve years ago to the day, when Candidate Gore kept trying to challenge misstatements by Candidate Bush.

Good grief! The first twenty minutes of last night’s debate was a virtual rerun of the first twenty minutes of the first Bush-Gore debate. In that instance, Gore was challenging plain misstatements by Bush about Bush’s prescription drug proposal.

In last night’s case, Obama was challenging misleading, occasionally inaccurate statements by Candidate Romney about Romney’s tax proposal.

In each case, Lehrer simply sat there, much like a potted plant. In each case, he made no attempt to bring factual clarity to a confused and confusing discussion.

Lehrer was unhelpful twelve years ago. His failure to act was even more striking last night.

Last night, Lehrer’s failure to act was quite striking. Reason: The facts of the present case are quite simple—and they’ve been on the table for months.

At issue is the highlighted statement made by Candidate Romney below.

Early in the debate, Obama complained about Romney’s tax cut proposal. In reply, Romney issued a flat denial:
OBAMA (10/3/12): We do have to close our deficit, and one of the things I'm sure we'll be discussing tonight is, how do we deal with our tax code? And how do we make sure that we are reducing spending in a responsible way, but also, how do we have enough revenue to make those investments?

And this is where there's a difference, because Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut, on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts—that's another trillion dollars—and $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign.

LEHRER: Both of you have spoken about a lot of different things, and we're going to try to get through them in as specific a way as we possibly can.

But, first, Governor Romney, do you have a question that you'd like to ask the president directly about something he just said?

ROMNEY: Well, sure. I'd like to clear up the record and go through it piece by piece.

First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people.
Obama said that Romney’s plan “calls for a $5 trillion tax cut.” Romney’s reply was swift, and it carried the evening:

“First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut.”

People, you’ve seen that movie before! If you want to see the first version of this classic film, just go to the tape of the first Bush-Gore debate and watch the first twenty minutes! (Just click here. If you want, you can start at minute ten.)

In that earlier drama, a remarkable set of exchanges begins with this. This exchange occurred on October 3—2000, not 2012:
GORE (10/3/00): Jim, under my plan all seniors will get prescription drugs under Medicare...

Here's how it works. You go to your own doctor, and your doctor chooses your prescription, and no HMO or insurance company can take—can take those choices away from you. Then you go to your own pharmacy, you fill the prescription and Medicare pays half the cost. If you're in a very poor family or if you have very high costs, Medicare will pay all the costs—a $25 premium and much better benefits than you could possibly find in the private sector.

Now here's the contrast: 95 percent of all seniors would get no help whatsoever under my opponent's plan for the first four or five years. Now one thing I don't understand, Jim, is, why is it that the wealthiest 1 percent get their tax cuts the first year, but 95 percent of seniors have to wait four to five years before they get a single penny?

LEHRER: Governor?

BUSH: I guess my answer to that is the man's running on “Mediscare,” trying to frighten people in the—in the voting booth. It's just not the way, the way I think, and that's just not my intentions and it's not my plan.
Except that was Bush’s plan. Gore pointed this out again and again while Lehrer played potted plant.

Tomorrow, we’ll recall where that fateful, ten-minute exchange between Bush and Gore ended up. For today, let’s simply ask this:

In each of these instances, what should Lehrer have done?

Our answer to that is simple: Ideally, Lehrer should have stepped in to clarify what Bush and Romney were saying. Last night, he should have asked Romney to explain exactly what he meant when he said that he doesn’t have “a $5 trillion tax cut.”

Why should Lehrer have questioned Romney? Because under rules of these debates, the candidates can’t question each other! In 2000, Gore was not allowed to challenge or question Bush about his misstatements.

The same rule obtained last night. (Although, in fairness, it wasn’t clear that Obama would have known what to say or ask.)

As moderator, Lehrer was allowed to question Candidates Bush and Romney. In each case, he failed to act.

Tomorrow, we’ll offer more detail on these remarkably similar movies. But last night’s opening twenty minutes was a virtual rerun of the opening twenty minutes of the first Bush-Gore debate, an event which was held twelve years before to the night.

Obama seemed much less well-prepared than Gore—but Lehrer was on the scene each time. In each case, he failed to act.

It’s time for this potted plant to go! In our view, he should have been gone a long time ago.

Can someone possibly take away the NewsHour’s watering can?

Tomorrow: Two different campaigns, same movie

If you want to watch that old movie: To watch the earlier version of last night’s film, you only have to watch the first twenty minutes of the 2000 debate. For C-Span’s tape, click here.

You can start at minute ten if you choose. For added fun, see how many “sighs” you hear! (This is the debate at which Gore is said to have uttered those “loud,” “perpetual” sighs.)

Listen for those sighs if you wish! If you do, you'll learn what a “journalistic” scam looks like. But within the opening twenty minutes, you will see the same plot elements you saw in last night’s rerun:

Starting at minute ten, you will see Candidate Bush making flat misstatements about his own proposal.

You will see those misstatements contradicted by Candidate Gore.

You will see Bush repeat his misstatements, this time with indignation—and with a scripted zinger. (Romney used a scripted zinger at the same point last night.) And sure enough:

With Gore not allowed to question Bush, you’ll see Lehrer play potted plant!

First, you’ll see Lehrer tell the candidates that they’re over time. He did the same thing last night.

Finally, you’ll see him move on to the next topic, without making any attempt to clarify what’s being said.

Lehrer seems to enjoy playing potted plant. It’s time for Jim Lehrer to go.


  1. IMHO the debate moderator should be a "potted plant". Jim Lehrer isn't running for President. Nobody elected him to a position of power broker in this election. If one candidate says something wrong, it's up to the other candidate to correct him. That's what Romney did whan Obama claimed a company got some sort of tax deduction for moving jobs abroad.

    Lincoln and Douglas debated without a news reporter to clarify their presentations. History recalls those debates as working rather well.

    1. The candidates should violate the debate terms, huh?

      And the candidates should lie, I mean "correct" each other, as Romney did?

      You're priceless.

    2. I agree with David to this degree. These aren't "debates" and Lehrer, or any of the other "moderators" is not a "judge."

      I also agree with him to the extent that it is up to the candidates to present their cases, without the "moderator" calling foul.

      That said, Lehrer's performance as moderate was poor, and he lost control when he caved into Romney's "He got to go first, I get to go last" rant at the end of the first question.

    3. Agree. There are ways to overcome a potted plant and if Obama wanted to take issue with anything Romney said he could have done so. Obama was intimidated and out of his depth. He has never been more than barely competent without a teleprompter and a friendly audience. No one should have been surprised by Romney's performance because if you've paid attention you know that Obama is clearly out of his depth in comparison.

      This wasn't a Jim Lehrer failure.

    4. Except that Romney lied about the tax deducations too: http://www.politifact.com/rhode-island/statements/2010/nov/21/sheldon-whitehouse/whitehouse-says-companies-get-tax-break-moving-job/

    5. "He has never been more than barely competent without a teleprompter and a friendly audience."

      Wrong. I guess you forgot that closed door Republican only audience that thought he would wilt under pressure when he actually wiped the floor with them.

    6. 12:41, exactly, and there were so many times that Romney pulled "facts" out of his posterior last night, including those in direct contradiction to his own well-known previous statements, that you hardly know where to begin.

      The real debate last night was not Romney vs. Obama. It was Romney vs. Romney, and we'll see how well the Obama campaign is able to work the "Romney Now vs. Romney Then" angle.

    7. Where did you read that? We all saw and heard what happened last night with our own eyes and ears. We weren't told it happened by partisans.

    8. Obama failed. The bigger picture of that rout will resonate. The competence and knowledge gap, not TV ads about duplicity that have been around since the beginning of the campaign. Known failure versus a hope for success from someone with a reputation for succeeding and who slaughtered the one defined as a failure.

    9. 1:05p: If Mitt Romney really was the candidate he presented himself to be in the debate, i would vote for him. But he is not. He changed again to suit a new audience.

    10. 1:08: What do you know of the Mitt Romney who has governed? What I know is that he is exactly the one who presented last night. A panderer leading up to securing the position, and a competent non-ideologue once in office. He doesn't get nailed down on specifics and changes positions because they don't exist aside from means to the end of winning the election. It isn't disturbing because it is done by every candidate to some extent and every one of them will flip flop once in office. A "plan" beyond a rough sketch is meaningless and can't exist until one knows the makeup of the congress and what will be possible.

    11. He governed in Massachusetts as a non-ideologue? Well, that certainly explains the 800 vetoes he issued in just four years, nearly all of them overridden.

    12. Which he has been running away from for two years now.

      So what are you saying? He really isn't going to work to repeal the national plan that is pretty much a carbon copy of Romneycare? He's just saying that to get votes?

    13. He IS just saying whatever he thinks he needs to for votes. I would never trust anyone like that in ANY leadership position EVER.

    14. He likes Romneycare for every state that chooses to adopt it, adjusted to that state's needs and preferences.

      If any voter didn't trust people who say whatever they need to say for votes no one would ever be elected to anything. Least of all either of the 2 on stage last night.

      "I will not renew the Bush tax cuts"

      "I will not murder American citizens without due process"

      "I will not torture"

    15. And Obama seems to be stressing that already. Here's a soundbite from his rally this morning before 12,000 people in Denver:

      “When I got on stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney, because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the whole year, promising $5 billion dollars in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night didn’t seem to know anything about that.”

    16. typo. Trillion, not billion.

    17. And the other fellow didn't seem to know anything about anything.

    18. "He likes Romneycare for every state that chooses to adopt it, adjusted to that state's needs and preferences."

      Romney called Obamacare big government intruding on decisions people should be making for themselves.

      So it's OK for state government to do that?

    19. David, Without cross-examination of some kind, debates will generally serve to confuse and obfuscate, rather than enlighten. In the Lincoln-Douglass debates, if you recall, the candidates were allowed to question each other. As Bob Somerby noted, The candidates aren't allowed to do that in modern presidential debates. So Jim Lehrer has to fill that roll to some extent. Otherwise these debates are a forum that will tend reward the least honest candidate, which they have been doing for many years.

      In a sane world, the opening discussion of Mitt Romney's tax proposal might have gone something like this:

      Obama: "Romney is proposing a five trillion dollar tax"

      Romney: "No I'm not"

      Lehrer: "But, Mr. Romney you do want to lower income tax rates across the board"

      Romney: "Yes, but those cuts will be offset in my plan"

      Lehrer: "How so"

      Romney: "I will close tax loopholes that predominantly benefit the wealthy"

      Lehrer: "Which loopholes"

      Romney: "I have not specified yet because I..um.. want to remain flexible and these questions are totally unfair and improper!"

      That kind of exchange would have deepened the understanding of viewers. What do you think voters could have learned from what actually took place?

  2. Always look forward to your comments. . . Agreed that Mr. Lehrer is ineffective. . . I regret to say I cannot offer a replacement suggestion who has the intellect/perspective necessary to ask probing questions and receive the approval of both sides. . . It is a travesty that in this age politicians can willfully lie to the camera and proceed unchallenged - perhaps we could have a supercomputer moderator which "gongs" loudly each time it hears false information. . . An excellent test setting might be one of the Sunday AM talking heads shows.

  3. A "massacre" Bob? Well, you have now completed your morph into Chris Matthews.

    Are you at least open to the possibility that Obama campaign is now armed with a supply depot full of, shall we call them "statements"?, that Romney made last night that they can make great use of for the next month?

    For example, exactly what is Romney's tax plan? It's now not a "tax cut" because it's now "revenue neutral." But it is a tax cut for "small businesses" who need it to hire more people and make the economy grow. Except that no one is going to pay higher taxes to make up for the tax cut to small businesses.

    1. It was a massacre.

    2. My understanding of the word "massacre" is that following one, the person's thus "massacred" is finis, done, dead, vanquished for good.

      I will also add to use such terms loosely gives these "debates" -- particularly the first one -- far more weight than they deserve.

    3. That's just semantics. Romney kicked Obama's ass; call it what you like.

    4. Well, I would think word choice would be important to a blogger who is dedicating his life to improving the American discourse.

    5. I call it a bloody and brutal beat down but whatever.

    6. I wouldn't go so far as use any "fight" analogy. You might be closer to call it figure skating where Romney scored on "artistic impression" from a panel of Russian judges, but good grief folks, if you actually go to a transcript and read what both guys actually said instead of the way they said it, you really have to reach for the "Nixon won on radio" myth to proclaim in either a "massacre" or "a bloody and brutal beat down."

      I'll give the public far more credit for intelligence than that, while pointing out that whatever points Romney won on style will soon evaporate when the rather skilled Obama turns the discussion back to substance.

    7. It's not going to happen for people who actually watched last night and decided based on what they saw. Obama is not going to come back today or next week and say "I should have said XYZ" because that will only make him look worse to those voters.

    8. Except that he's not saying, "I should have said . . ."

      He's saying, "Look at what Romney said."

    9. Anyone who saw that debate and thought Obama didn't get utterly crushed is nuts. He bent over and took it for 90 minutes straight, and didn't even ask for Vaseline. Worst debate performance since Bush in 2004.

    10. That still depends on how the post-debate debate goes. If Obama effectively hammers the "new Romney vs. real Romney" theme, then whatever style points that conventional wisdom says that Romney gained will evaporate rather quickly.

    11. Depending on "post debate debates" is a good way of losing, and a lot more than just an election. Obama is very lucky he has such a big lead to work with, but if he keeps it up he'll squander that. The real issue, though, is things like this damage the brand. Romney's campaign to date, and the general insanity of the Republicans is costing them big time in congressional races, but if Obama keeps bending over and taking it up the ass like he did last night, things can change very quickly. That debate was a microcosm of what is wrong with Obama: a tendency to let things slide, to be disinterested, not to have pressing goals and values. In a time like this there should have been a million things he was absolutely BURNING to say on the national stage, but he just stood there with a weak attempt at a professorial look on his face while Romney packed his fudge. It was a disgusting, weak performance by the wimp-in-chief, one that mirrors his general performance as president. Saying he can fix it after the fact misses the point: it's pretty plain that what's wrong with Obama can't be fixed. He's a punk born, and he seems to like it that way.

    12. Til, this is how we fall into the trap of looking at the debates the way pundits look at it, rather than what real people are really talking about.

      You know what is emerging as THE "soundbite" from that debate? The thing people are talking about?

      Big Bird.

      And that is a totally unforced error from Romney who simple put PBS on his chopping block without the issue even coming close to coming up.

      I don't know what or who you watched during the aftermath of the "debacle", "massacre" or whatever as they picked over style points -- Romney was energetic and forceful, and the president so laid back.

      But did anybody bring up the fact that Romney, out of the clear blue sky, announced that cutting funds to PBS was part of his plan to balance the budget?

      Nope. Until, through the magic of social media, they found out that Big Bird was trending at the rate of 17,000 per minute on Twitter, and THAT is was people were taking away from the debate.

      Not style points. Not form. Not body language.

      Big Bird.

  4. I think there's a huge gender gap on perceptions of the debate. To me, as a woman, Romney came across not as energetic and in command, but as a whining bully, sporting a fake smile. He was disrespectful of both the President and the moderator. I was actually insulted by his manner.

    He unloaded a can of whup-ass by disregarding the rules of the debate and lying repeatedly. Why didn't Obama respond more aggressively? Perhaps because, in the past, when Al Gore did attempt to respond to misstatements, the press took him apart for it. The press needed to have Romney win the debate in a convincing manner. They have to fill the month of October with copy and airtime. Today the story is Mitt's aggressiveness and toughness in taking over the debate. If Obama had responded aggressively, today the story would have been that Mitt caused the President to lose his cool, show his testy side, that Mitt had gotten to Obama and made him show his true (peevish and thin-skinned) colors.

    1. Was wondering when democrats would start crying "bullying". A president who can be "bullied" on the debate stage and on the world stage? No thanks.

    2. Mary Lou, you raise and interesting point.

      To add an anecdote, after hearing all the TV pundits talk about who was more aggressive, who looked down, who looked up, who was seemed listless, who seemed energetic, my wife said, "When are they going to talk about what they actually said?"

    3. Live by "optics" die by "optics". Obama is a diva whose shallow knowledge base and inability to defend himself without help from the media was exposed last night. Voters had a chance to see him challenged by a forceful leader and without a prompter for the first time.

    4. So tell me, 2:54, you were "undecided" until last night, and you know exactly what other "undecided" voters are thinking today?

    5. So tell me, 2:54, you were "undecided" until last night, and you know exactly what other "undecided" voters are thinking today?

    6. Romney has been "massacred" by the media throughout the entire campaign and managed to remain close to even. I have to think a first hand, first look at the two engaged in debate, with a vastly superior performance by one, would sway undecided observers.

    7. Everything about Romney is fake. In a sane world he'd be in a white coat telling you how to get that Ipana smile, not running for president.

    8. He was a real governor, ran a real Olympics, has a real cute wife and five sons, earned real Harvard law and business degrees, made real billions of dollars. Romney's successes are real which is why voters who wouldn't want to have a beer with him will vote for him.

    9. ". . .has a real cute wife and five sons, . . ."

      Wow! Now there's a great reason to elect a guy president.

      In fact, one of only five reasons you could come up with.

    10. I came over here to get away for a time from the scurrilous nonsense on Yahoo!,and here I find myself in just about the the same 'thicket'.

  5. In high school and college debates, the participants would hastily scribble down the other side's statements and refute them when it was their turn.

    What we saw was not a debate at all. What we saw was BS.

    The only listeners that really knew what was going on were ones that already knew the issues, arguments and facts.

    Bottom line, Romney was aggressive, Obama was not.

    Jim Lehrer stated in an interview after the election in 2000 that he voted for Bush.

    His conduct last night clearly illustrated that he still has a bias towards Republican candidates.

    That schmuck pretends to be fair and balanced, but he has an agenda. He has always had an agenda. He voted for the moronic George W. Bush, the former President that was excluded from his own party's convention!

    I'd like to see Obama ask Romney in front of millions of Americans why George W. Bush and Sarah Palin were absent at the GOP convention.

    And whom has Lehrer anointed to fill his shoes at PBS? Why Gwen Ifill, natch.

    1. Lehrer demonstrated his bias for Romney by giving Obama 4 minutes more speaking time and supplying Obama with talking points a couple times, I guess.

      If you really believe that question about Palin and Bush would have resonated, you're seriously delusional.

  6. I support the president, but I thought he appeared exhausted, wonkish, meek, unwilling to challenge nearly every lie Mitt Romney said, and far too conciliatory on more than one issue.

    Why on earth would he assert to 60 million people, many of them low-information voters, that he and Mitt Romney basically agreed about Social Security? Huh? Why did he not ever once bring up, even in a polite way, Romney's heinous "47%" remarks? Why didn't he--and won't he--push back on the $716 billion cut" from Medicare lie? I've heard President Obama explain and state things in a simple, non-wonkish way, but has 4 years of being in the White House around policy heads and billionaires completely erased that earlier Obama?

    Perhaps, as Al Gore said last night on Current TV, the President was suffering from "altitude sickness," since he'd only arrived in Colorado at 2 pm. I know it made me light-headed when I was out there. But even taking that into account, the president really did not acquit himself as well as he could have last night. We need him to step up for the next debate, because, as I said over and over in 2000 when Bush was lying his way to Washington, many, many people--the 99%, the 47%, most of us--will find themselves in a very bad place if Romney and Ryan get into the White House.

    1. We're already in a very bad place. One candidate wants to eliminate the social safety net entirely but lies about it not being his plan, the other wants to cut it a little bit at a time until he finds the magic tipping point where his opponents will join him in a Grand Bargain. Either way, we're screwed.

  7. We had a debate between a right-wing Republican and a far right-wing Republican.

    Obama lost because his voting base is not Republican, it's the people he's been screwing for the last 3 1/2 years in favor of the banksters and M.I.C.

    Imagine if he said, "I will not cut Social Security, but my opponent will!"

    Of course, he could not. He's been trying to get Social Security cut since he appointed his Catfood Commission. He even uses the same Frank Luntz language the Republicans do, "entitlements".

    President Obama promised change. Like a ratchet, he prevented it instead.

    1. OK, I'll play along.

      OBAMA: "I will not cut Social Security, byt my opponent will!"

      ROMNEY: "No, I won't."

      SOMERBY, et al: "It was a massacre!"

    2. January, 2010. That's when Obama handpicked Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles.

      There wouldn't even be an election contest if Obama had done right by the people who voted for him, as opposed to the banksters who bought his election.

    3. Your handle is all in lowercase, but you're no lowercase guy -- The posts are too grammatical for one thing.

      For another, you're making perfect sense.


    4. We had a debate between a Third Way centrist and a center-right Republican.

      New Democrat Network Democrats, like Obama, and Heritage Republicans, like Romney, have been the only participants allowed by the parties and press establishment for some time.

      It's certainly true that the Third Way ideology and policy agenda is terrible for ordinary Americans, and that rightist, robber-baron laissez-faire is also terrible for ordinary Americans, but the similarity is in the results, not the political-economic philosophy, messaging and agendas of either.

      It's about time that liberal Democrats became familiar with just how unworkable in practice all the wonderful ideas of the "Pragmatic Progressive" wing of their party are. It's about time that people on the left who know better start to accurately describe the two dominant ideological wings in America --right and center-- that have shown themselves to the the corrupt incompetents that they are.

      Obama is not a right-wing Republican. Obama is a New Democrat. Romney is not an extreme, right-wing Republican. Romney's policy agenda is 1995 Brookings'. It's a mistake for leftists like us to mis-characterize anything with which we disagree as "right-wing," when it's not.

      Movement liberals' problem is primarily with the Third Way center --the centrists are the ones who managed to take the Democratic Party away from New Deal-ers.

      Break "the center-left coalition" at the core of the Democratic Party leadership and messaging apparatus, and you won't get as many Obamas or Romneys.

    5. Stuart, will these labels really matter to most people?

      Obama is accomplishing Republican aims. Cut Social Security, bail out the banksters, keep the national security domestic spying apparatus intact, and continue the war to create endless terrorism.

      The amount of rube bait (a.k.a. the culture wars) involved is merely a matter of marketing to the appropriate voting base.

  8. We must know, more in fairness than in joy, that one big winner last night was Bob "The Daily Howler" Somerby. He has been banging the gong on Jim Lerhrer for a decade, a guy most liberals probably always viewed as a least stand up. When I saw he was going to moderate, I knew I didn't need to watch, I know how this one will turn out.

    The difference (and it is the difference of the Obama era) is that liberals won't roll over for this QUITE so much, and Romney distortions are already being called out on the blogosphere. There may even be a perception turn around something like what was done to Gore way back when.

    1. Greg, in the grand pantheon of things that truly matter to me, Jim Lehrer's performance as a debate moderator, past and present, ranks pretty low.

      But hey, let's give Somerby his props! He most certainly did get to the very bottom of the crucial Jim Lehrer as debate moderator issue quite a few years ago.

      I would just hope that when he is done blogging, it is not Somerby's signature accomplishment.

    2. I think it's part of his greater accomplishment, of showing that, yes, part of the right's bully problem is the left's willingness to be punching bags. And as with other Political Media Figures, Lehrer was perceived by the casual observer as a leftish good guy, just because he was on PBS.
      It's weird, Mark Sheilds (the liberal guy) played some the dirtiest pool of all
      against Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and TDH let it pass. Maybe both of these occurred because The News Hour (broad strokes, exceptions noted) is a pretty good news show.

    3. Or it could be because The News Hour isn't on Somerby's radar screen any more.

      Which is my chief criticism of how this blog has evolved over the years. It used to be criticism of a much broader "media."

      It seems to be getting more and more focused on criticism of Maddow, Dowd and Collins, with the occasional MSNBC host or NYT op-ed columnist thrown in every now and then.

  9. The worst news for Obama is the third and last debate will be on foreign policy.

    1. I doubt of Osama bin Laden will be tuning in.

    2. Obama had little to nothing to do with killing bin Laden as even the lowest-information voter understands.

    3. Right. The commander in chief has little to nothing to do with it when missions succeed. Only when they fail.

    4. Please, keep hammering us lowest information voters with your massively petty refusal to credit Obama for getting Bin Laden. That's really going to kill us at the polls!

  10. Great Obama line he just said in Madison, Wisc.:

    "He's going to get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on Sesame Street."

    1. Unfortunately everyone saw last night that those "zingers" don't come naturally, they must be written by someone else and read from a teleprompter

  11. While Obama long ago proved himself no debater, what's with the right wing "Teleprompter" buzz reference? Ever see Reagan flying without one? It wasn't pretty . I guess for the ditto heads, it passes for a joke.

    1. You got me. I have no idea, but they are like a pit bull with a ham bone on it. Maybe they think its still clever the 1,423,856th time they say it.

      As if no Republican would ever use a teleprompter.

  12. He's probably a passable CIC provided he's never required to make a decision above 5,000 feet

  13. Maybe it's just me but it sure seems like this post is missing a howl. Bob Somerby wrote:

    >>>>>Why should Lehrer have questioned Romney? Because under [the] rules of these debates, the candidates can’t question each other!<<<<<

    Earlier in this same post Somerby had pasted:

    >>>>>LEHRER: Both of you have spoken about a lot of different things, and we're going to try to get through them in as specific a way as we possibly can.

    But, first, Governor Romney, do you have a question that you'd like to ask the president directly about something he just said?

    1. You do understand that these aren't the same thing, right?

      Moderator: "Please ask the President a question, Mr. Romney" -- allowed


      President: "Wait a minute Mr. Romney, what about...?" -- not allowed

    2. You think that's how "the rules" read?

    3. I guess that's a "no" then -- you don't understand the difference.

      And, yes, that difference shows *exactly* what the rules wouldn't permit.

    4. Once the moderator asked one of the debaters if he wanted to ask his counterpart a direct question -- and Lehrer did this the first time he turned to Romney -- then that other debater would have been able to cite that license thereafter to ask questions while maintaining the high ground.

      Another example along these lines was at the end of the first round of discussion. Romney insisted on having the last word because Obama had made the opening comment. Yet what happened was Obama and Lehrer allowed Romney to have the last word on subsequent topics even when Romney made the opening comment for them.

      Look, you can try to make the case you're some sort of skilled sophist but obviously Romney adjusted the debate format to suit himself almost from the outset. Making the case that Obama, who heads an assault on civil liberties day in and day out in this country, was constrained by debate rules that were not being followed by his opponent, nor by the moderator, indicates nothing more than that you think by making a ridiculous point you're demonstrating that you are oh so rhetorically clever.

  14. Take a look at Obama, unscripted, taking tough questions from the GOP House members (including Paul Ryan) and knocking them out of the ballpark. No teleprompter.


    1. Daily Howler Wednesday, February 3, 2012 [my emphasis]:

      [indent]>>>>>...RYAN (1/29/10): I serve as a ranking member of the Budget Committee. so I want to talk budget, if you don’t mind. The spending bills that you’ve signed into law, the domestic discretionary spending has been increased by 84 percent. You now want to freeze spending at this elevated level beginning next year. This means that total spending in your budget would grow at three-hundredths of one percent less than otherwise. I would simply submit that we could do more and start now....

      OBAMA... : Let me respond to the two specific questions, but I want to push back a little bit on the underlying premise about us increasing spending by 84 percent. Now, look— I talked to Peter Orszag right before I came here, because I suspect I’d be hearing this argument.

      The fact of the matter is that most of the increases in this year’s budget—this past year’s budget—were not as a consequence of policies that we initiated, but instead were built in as a consequence of the automatic stabilizers that kick in because of this enormous recession.

      So the increase in the budget for this past year was actually predicted before I was even sworn into office and had initiated any policies. Whoever was in there, Paul—and I don’t think you’ll dispute that—whoever was in there would have seen those same increases because of, on the one hand, huge drops in revenue, but, at the same time, people were hurting and needed help. And a lot of these things happened automatically....

      [Somerby says] Obama made a lot of accurate statements in that part of his answer. But Ryan had made a claim about jumps in discretionary spending. After assuring Ryan that he had prepared for this question, Obama proceeded to answer a different question—a question he hadn’t been asked....

      RYAN: I would simply say that automatic stabilizer spending is mandatory spending. The discretionary spending—the bills that Congress signs, that you sign into law—that has increased 84 percent.

      OBAMA: We’ll have a, we’ll have a longer debate on the budget numbers then. All right?<<<<<[end indent]

    2. That's Obama "kicking ass"? It's more of Obama offering pat rehearsed answers in an obviously rehearsed "natural" manner, having nothing to do with the questions asked. We saw the real Obama forced to answer challenges dealing with a broad spectrum of issues, without a teleprompter and without ability to rehearse. He was embarrassing.

    3. From Factcheck.org (not that they are perfect):

      Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, also had some trouble with discretionary spending figures, repeating false information from a partisan study that inflates how much discretionary spending has increased under Obama.

      In an interview on ABC’s "Good Morning America," Ryan said domestic discretionary spending has gone up 84 percent in Obama’s first two years.

      Ryan, Feb. 15: We don’t want to accept the fact that the president increased domestic spending by 84 percent over the last two years when you count the stimulus, 24 percent in the base budget. That’s too much.

      As we’ve explained before — most recently when we fact checked Ryan’s official party response to the president’s State of the Union address — the 84 percent is wrong. It comes from a partisan report issued by the Republican staff of the House Budget Committee. A CBO report from January shows that domestic discretionary spending rose from $485.1 billion in 2008 to $614.2 billion in 2010, an increase of $129.1 billion or 27 percent. The CBO’s discretionary spending figures include stimulus funding.

  15. Mitch4949 @2:59 pm.

    Right. So why didn't President Obama know that wasn't the right percentage?

    1. He and Peter Orszag have got to stop reading bullshit GOP reports.