Bob Franken

Taking Debate

In Defense of the Moderators (Bob Franken)
@ 9:14 am

We reporters are a weird group. And a big problem we face these days is that no one understands what makes us tick, or what should make our craft what it is. Unfortunately, that includes many of our corporate owners, and certainly includes many of the highly opinionated bloggers who believe that if you ain’t with us, you’re against us, and MUST BE DESTROYED.

As Randy would say on “American Idol”: “Check it out”: If all sides hate the way we’ve covered a story, we’re either truly awful or we’re doing our job right.

Which brings us to Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. They have been taking a lot of heat for their line of questions during the ABC News debate Wednesday night.

Full disclosure: I have cordial relations with both of them. Our social paths have crossed. But I wouldn’t hesitate to tap-dance on their heads if I thought they had done a bad job.

This isn’t one of those times. They did what they were supposed to do. Both of them asked the nasty questions that reflected the news of the day.

It’s telling that most of their criticism has come from Barack Obama supporters. They’re right, the larger chunk of the topics put their guy on the defensive. Therefore, according to the clamor, Gibson and Stephanopoulos were clearly out to get Obama and were piling on.

My, my, my, Obama people. Get over it. You’re beginning to sound as anti-media whiny as the Clintons. Again, “check it out”:

The candidates have been debating ad nauseam. There have been so many of these little shows that we’re way beyond shedding light on the great issues of the campaign. In fact, when it’s time for still another discussion about healthcare, the economy or Iraq, the eyes of the participants glaze over as they recite the same policies you can find on their websites.

All that is really left that’s fresh is the controversy du jour. Since Obama has stepped in it more the last few jours, there was more to ask him.

Suddenly, this basketball-loving candidate who never seems to sweat as he drives unguarded to the net was facing a tough full-court press. As he has struggled to understand how small-town people play, it was no longer such a slam dunk for Obama, and his fans are furious. So they’re booing the refs.

OK. I have that out of my system. No more ridiculous sports metaphors. But it’s also ridiculous to think that Barack Obama is any less accountable for his statements or his associates than Hillary Clinton is for hers.

In these raw times, when everyone has such strong opinions about who’s to blame for the mess we’re in, debate has been overrun by hard feelings. Too few have any patience for the journalistic ideal of skepticism equally applied.

Without that spirit of inquiry we will continue becoming a nation of separate enemy camps. There will be no one we turn to to ask the tough questions that help us identify our leaders and refine our ideas. That is what Charlie and George were doing the other night. If they antagonized many in their audience, they can be proud.

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