In light of the Obama administration’s newfound interest in upholding our fair electoral process they might want to start by looking a little closer to home. The Commission on Presidential Debates, who have handled all of the presidential debates since 1988 claim to be a non-partisan, non-profit organization whose only interest is providing voters with fair and balanced debates between major candidates.
However, the group’s non-partisan claim has long been questioned due to the fact that the vast majority of the moderators they’ve selected are known to be left leaning. Its therefore not surprising that conservatives have long felt the debates were fundamentally unfair, citing slanted questions designed to benefit the Democratic Party candidate.
In 2012 Candy Crowley famously injected herself into the 2nd Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by defending Obama on Benghazi. Adding insult to injury, her assertion was later found to be false and the episode now lives infamously as an example of moderator bias influencing an election.
In 2016 the commission took the bias to a new low by entrusting the first debate to Lester Holt. Holt, who oddly enough claims to be a registered Republican alternated between lobbing soft balls to Hillary Clinton and hurling humiliating verbal attacks framed as questions to Donald Trump. By the time the evening was done he had managed to question Trump on his taxes, birther comments and personal scandals without ever asking Clinton about her email server, Benghazi or the Clinton Foundation. He also openly challenged Trump throughout the evening (often times incorrectly,) while never once challenging Clinton.
While the bias was not quite as pronounced during second debate it was substantial nonetheless. In particular, co moderator Martha Radditz repeatedly argued with Mr. Trump during his responses and was visibly angry with him throughout the majority of the evening. The third debate, which was moderated by Fox New’s Chris Wallace was generally accepted as fairly moderated by progressives and conservatives alike.
The selection and behavior of moderators like Crowley, Holt and Radditz provide ample reason to evaluate the commission. More disturbingly however, it was discovered during the election that CNN’s Donna Brazile gave the Clinton campaign a copy of Lester Holt’s questions prior to the first debate. This is concerning on several fronts. As we established earlier, Clinton was given substantially easier and more flattering questions. It turns out that she actually had access to them prior to the debate, a courtesy not extended to Mr. Trump. The revelation also contradicted Mr. Holt’s opening remarks which declared that neither candidate had received the questions in advance. We know that Donna Brazile (who was forced to resign from CNN over the scandal) was the one who gave the questions to the Clinton campaign but we do not yet know how she got her hands on them. Clearly, Lester Holt lied when he said that no one had copies of the question. He gave the questions to someone but when and how did the leak occur? Was Holt acting on his own or is he a part of a larger collusion between the commission and the DNC.
The revelation that the Commission of Presidential Debates was caught giving one of the two party’s advanced access to the questions has broad implications. Was this an isolated incident or has this appeared in prior elections? Were the questions offered freely to the Clinton campaign or was it part of a larger, pay to play scheme? How many elections have been influenced by fundamentally biased and unfair debates? An issue like this, which effects the very nature of our free elections is an issue that should matter to all Americans. For this reason I am calling for a bi-partisan effort to get to the bottom of this scandal.
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