Jim Lehrer was accused of getting steamrolled when he moderated last week's presidential debate. Nobody's saying that about Martha Raddatz, the ABC News correspondent who presided over Thursday's pyrotechnics between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP challenger Paul Ryan. The verdict is that Raddatz served as an authoritative referee, firmly guiding the candidates through discussions of everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya to the Afghan war to abortion. There were dissenters — several conservative commentators said Raddatz favored Biden, and Kyle Peterson at The American Spectator says that one of her final questions, "What could you both give to this country as a man?" was better suited for Miss America than candidates seeking the vice presidency. Still, the consensus appears to be that Raddatz showed Lehrer and other moderators how it's done. Politico declared: "Tonight's winner: Martha Raddatz." What made her so good at the job? Here, three theories:
1. Raddatz went at them like the reporter she is
What made Raddatz so great, says Dan Zak at The Washington Post, was that she "pursued each man with the vigor of a woman more accustomed to needling foreign leaders than reciting prompter text." She's a journalist "accustomed to flying in a Black Hawk" and demanding answers. "Raddatz held firm control of the debate without squelching dialogue or spontaneity," pushing both candidates for "specific plans" even if, "fairly or not, she reserved most of her skepticism for Ryan." When the candidates meandered, Raddatz silenced them "with the teacherly interjection of 'Gentlemen.'" In short, she "schooled" them both.
2. She kept the candidates honest
One of the main things that made Raddatz's performance so "astonishing," says Andrew Rosenthal at The New York Times, was her "consistent willingness to call the candidates on their 'malarkey,'" as Biden put it. When Ryan promised to cut taxes without increasing the deficit by eliminating loopholes, but wouldn't name the loopholes, "she drew attention to his evasiveness: 'No specifics, again.'" After Biden and Ryan gave their views on abortion, Raddatz asked, "If a Romney/Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?" Both candidates essentially said yes. That's clarity, and we owe it to Raddatz.
3. She handled it the way liberals wanted
There's a good reason "lefty" media types are going gaga over Raddatz's performance, says Dan Gainor at Fox News: "Raddatz took a liberal tack on abortion and let Biden control the debate tone by never shutting up." At times, the debate felt like a "2-on-1 fight" with Biden and Raddatz taking turns interrupting Ryan. "When Ryan pushed the point about useless government pork spent on green jobs, Raddatz interrupted him just as he was asking Biden about the alleged 5 million green jobs the administration had vowed to create." The debate was defined by the way Raddatz let Biden's "obnoxious tone" define the whole encounter. Liberals got what they wanted, and that's why she's being praised.
Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.
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