The moderators’ role is always complex. Journalists and news organizations jockey to get one of the coveted slots and become, in effect, partners with the commission and the candidates. But they are, of course, also reporters who fiercely guard their independence and bristle at any actual or perceived sense that their function is controlled by the organizers or the campaigns. All parties acknowledge that Crowley’s behind-the-scenes role will be influential. She will cull the questions submitted by the voters who are invited to attend the debate, and then decide which ones will be asked and in what order.
Crowley seems unfazed by the behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Even after concerns were raised in the wake of the Malveaux interview, Crowley made additional comments that make clear she does not feel bound by any agreement between the commission and the Obama and Romney camps. On Oct. 11, the day of the vice-presidential debate, she told Wolf Blitzer, ”I’m always interested in the questions because you don’t want to — in a debate, you don’t want to go over plowed ground. Now, this is the vice-presidential candidates as opposed to the presidential candidates. So is there room there to come back to a presidential candidate and say, Well, your vice-presidential candidate said this? I’m always kind of looking for the next question … So there’s opportunity for follow-up to kind of get them to drill down on the subjects that these folks want to learn about in the town hall.” Marl Halperin