NBC's Tom Brokaw asked mostly straightforward policy questions in Tuesday's presidential debate, but also found time to throw several character-revealing queries at John McCain and Barack Obama.
Of the 21 questions asked, six (29 percent) revealed character, according to methodology employed in CMI's recent Special Report, “Character the Most Important Issue in Presidential Primary Debates.”  That study examined all 1,332 questions in the 35 total primary debates for both parties and found that character – in the sense that the questions revealed integrity, leadership, honesty and courage – figured into 36 percent of the questions.
The first debate, moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer on Sept. 26, was candidate-driven, with Lehrer functioning more as a referee. Only three character questions arose. Two were about whether the candidates would change their priorities due to the financial crisis, and the other was about a possible future 9/11 attack. Interestingly, few commentators picked up on Lehrer's use of the phrase “affect the way you rule the country.” Rule? In
But we digress. Here are the character-revealing questions from Tuesday's debate.
Brokaw: “Are you saying to Mr. Clark (ph) and to the other members of the American television audience that the American economy is going to get much worse before it gets better and they ought to be prepared for that?”
Audience Member: “How can we trust either of you with our money when both parties got -- got us into this global economic crisis?”
Brokaw: Sen. McCain, for you, we have our first question from the Internet tonight. A child of the Depression, 78-year-old Fiora (ph) from
In the next question Brokaw broke the media mold of blaming the financial crisis on Wall Street greed, by including an abdication of personal responsibility by individual consumers.
Brokaw: “President Bush, you'll remember, last summer, said that “Wall Street got drunk.” A lot of people now look back and think the federal government got drunk and, in fact, the American consumers got drunk. How would you, as president, try to break those bad habits of too much debt and too much easy credit, specifically, across the board, for this country, not just at the federal level, but as a model for the rest of the country, as well?”
Two more questions also involved leadership:
Audience Member: “Should the
Audience Member: “If, despite your best diplomatic efforts,
As CNSNEWS Editor in Chief Terry Jeffrey notes:
An analysis of a complete transcript of the debate posted by CNN shortly after the debate ended, indicated that of the 21 distinct debate questions, 9 focused on the economy, 7 on foreign policy, 2 on health care, 1 on the environment, and 1 on energy.
An additional question—the last one in the debate—came from a woman in
We wonder whether that question was smuggled in by the blue-suited woman in the top row who often smiled goofily and could barely conceal her delight with Obama. The audience was supposed to be entirely non-committal.
In his article, Jeffrey also points out that Brokaw posed no questions about immigration,
Most of the questions that Brokaw selected for the “town hall” format were down the middle, but at least three were asked from liberal premises:
Audience member: “We saw that Congress moved pretty fast in the face of an economic crisis. I want to know what you would do within the first two years to make sure that Congress moves fast as far as environmental issues, like climate change and green jobs?” (Premise: global warming is man-made and the government needs to expand to crack down on carbon emissions.)
Audience Member: “Senator, selling health care coverage in
Tom Brokaw: “Is health care in
Brokaw briefly violated his own responsibility, to remain impartial, by implicitly criticizing one of McCain's answers. Asked what he would tackle first, energy, health or entitlement reform, McCain said he would do all three at once. Brokaw then asked Obama the same question, but first commented that “there are some real questions about whether everything can be done at once.” Brokaw did not cast doubt on any of Obama's answers.
McCain skipped several golden opportunities, such as defending his much-criticized statement that the “fundamentals of the economy” are sound, which Obama used to paint him as an out-of-touch Pollyanna. McCain could have talked about
No one brought up ACORN's role, either. ACORN is a far-left group that Obama worked with in
Finally, Obama, not Brokaw, repeated the media mantra that the
Any missed opportunities for either man was not Brokaw's fault. He gave them an open field, including several chances to show off their character.
Robert Knight, Director of the Culture and Media Institute, and Colleen Raezler, CMI Research Assistant, are co-authors of “Character the Main Issue in Presidential Primary Debates.”