The hashtag “PoorJim” started trending on Twitter as Mitt Romney and President Obama steamrolled Jim Lehrer last night, but it seems even more applicable following the blistering criticism leveled at the moderator after the debate. While one might think that Lehrer would have spent the day desperately trying to avoid any news source, on Thursday afternoon he sent out a statement challenging those bashing his performance and the debate’s new looser format. “I thought the format accomplished its purpose, which was to facilitate direct, extended exchanges between the candidates about issues of substance,” Lehrer said. “Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so.”
Part of the problem may be that, as New York’s Frank Rich noted, the new format wasn’t clearly explained. However, with his many unsuccessful interjections, it did seem that Lehrer was attempting to do more to direct the “flow” of the debate.
Lehrer added, “My only real personal frustration was discovering that 90 minutes was not enough time in that more open format to cover every issue that deserved attention.” Lehrer ran out of time even for the sixth topic he’d selected, leaving each candidate only three minutes to discuss ways to address gridlock in Washington, but there were also complaints that he failed to address many other domestic issues. Stephen Barton, a survivor of the Aurora, Colorado shooting who was lobbying for a question on gun control, summed up the sentiments of many who were hoping to see the candidates address a wider range of topics. “It’s easy to say the economy is the biggest issue and we don’t have to talk about anything else,” he said. “But in reality a lot of Americans want to hear about the things they would do as president.”
Considering the outcome of the debate, it isn’t surprising that Democrats were more critical of Lehrer’s performance than Republicans — or that one person found his laid-back approach to moderating particularly impressive. “I appreciate the fact that Jim Lehrer asked questions of substance and we each responded to them,” said Romney, at a campaign stop on Thursday. “I got the chance to ask the president questions that people across the country have wanted to ask him, such as why is it that he pushed Obamacare at a time when we had 23 million people out of work? I asked him those questions and you heard his answers.”