Ethics Alarms Verdicts: The Second Debate

Some Ethics-related conclusions on Wednesday’s second Presidential debate:

Were the candidates uncivil?

I didn’t think so. There were a lot of Twitter comments about Gov. Romney being disrespectful to the President. The deference due to the President of the United States isn’t an issue when debates hew to the formal, detached format of the past. In those debates, the tone of the exchanges are so muted that the two candidates could be in different time zones. Once a different tone is set, with either candidate directly challenging statements while the other candidate is speaking, that tradition has fled, as it did last night. The challenger to a sitting President can hardly be told that he needs to be deferential in a debate; that is the equivalent of asking him to fight with one hand tied behind his back. I thought that both candidates were within the bounds of civility under the circumstances. It was certainly not the civility that I complimented in the second debate—it was a heated, sometimes rancorous argument, but it was the argument of two passionate, forceful, serious public servants, and it served the public well. Neither candidate displayed the contemptuous, rude attitude that Joe Biden adopted in the Vice-Presidential debate. Biden crossed the civility line, but the President and his challenger did not.

Was the moderator biased?

I have a bias toward Candy Crowley, and maybe that’s why I prefer not to think so. I think the format happened to work against Romney at least twice, when he was prevented from answering a direct accusation because the President had spoken last; that’s not Crowley’s fault, not should she be faulted for trying to enforce the rules. A lot has been made of the fact that Obama got more time from Crowley, three minutes, apparently, over the course of an hour and a half.. I didn’t notice. It wasn’t intentional, I’m sure, and it didn’t make any difference that I could see. Many conservative commentators said that her attitude and tone toward the candidates showed a pro-Obama bias: I didn’t see it. I think that’s confirmation bias: conservatives were convinced Crowley would be biased when she was chosen. I did think Crowley’s choice of questions was less than optimal. The Bush question was inappropriate and slanted against the Republican, and the “72%” question, as I noted, made my head explode.

Crowley is a rarity: a female journalist who has risen high in her profession without ever looking good in a bathing suit. The penchant of news networks for choosing sex appeal over ability for their on-air talent is an industry disgrace of long-standing, and Crowley is to be admired: a survivor, a professional, and one of the very few of her gender who can honestly say that good genes and Pilates played no part in her success. This was an opportunity that she earned by superior work, and I believe she was trying to be fair.

What about Crowley’s “lifeline” to Obama during the Benghazi exchange?

If you missed it, this occurred during the argument about the Obama Administration’s failure to add security at the Libyan embassy, and the nearly two weeks in which the President, Jay Carney, Hillary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice insisted that the deaths of our ambassador and other embassy personnel resulted from a spontaneous uprising over the YouTube trailer for an anti-Islam film. “There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack,” Romney said, suggesting a deliberate cover-up (which it may well have been; otherwise it was incompetence).  Obama countered that he had said it was an “act of terror” in his speech in the White House Rose Garden. This was a deceitful response by the President that Romney allowed by picking up the President’s wording: Romney meant “an act of terrorism,” which spontaneous violence over a video would not be, but a planned Al Qida attack was. Obama and his staff spent two weeks deliberately saying it was not a planned terrorist attack, and continued to blame the video. Still, in his speech in the wake of the attack, Obama had said,

“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.  Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America.  We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.  And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

As Romney and Obama were arguing about this, Crowley interrupted and this exchange occurred:

CROWLEY: He – he did call it an act of terror. It did as well
take – it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there
being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct
about that.

ROMNEY: This – the administration – the administration
indicated this was a reaction to a video and was a spontaneous

CROWLEY: It did.

Many commentators are furious with Crowley for this, and regarded it, as one pundit wrote, Crowley “jumping out of the stands and tackling Romney as he was about to score a touchdown.” They also regard it as proof positive of Crowley’s bias, and that the desperate media is willing to do anything to save their anointed leader, Obama.

Again, maybe I’m giving Crowley too much credit, but I think it was her Jim Joyce moment, a bad mistake, but an honest mistake. Later, she tried to clarify her reasoning  and said that Romney was essentially correct but used the wrong words. Crowley’s intervention looked bad; it did trip up Romney and gave Obama assistance he didn’t deserve, and was perceived as vindicating the President, which it did not. If Obama knew it was an act of terrorism, why did he tell the United Nation days later that the attack was a spontaneous riot over a video?  Romney, of course, could have regained some of the momentum Crowley took away by saying that: he didn’t.

I think Crowley was genuinely trying to end what she saw as bickering over words. Ann Althouse has pointed out that in doing this, Crowley explicitly violated the pledge that was part of her contract as moderator:

“The moderator will not… intervene in the debate except to acknowledge the questioners from the audience or enforce the time limits, and invite candidate comments during the 2 minute response period.”

Yes, but let’s be fair: this was a donnybrook like no other Presidential debate, and certainly no previous “town meeting” format. Crowley had to do something to keep order. She just chose a bad time to do it in this case. She had a very difficult job, and had to make instant decisions in an environment that she couldn’t have prepared for and that no other moderator faced. She didn’t tackle Romney. She just blew it. I feel badly for her: Crowley finally got her big shot, and what will be remembered is her mistake.

And the audience?

“Undecided”? I doubt it. The applause that greeted the Benghazi exchange was telling as well as inappropriate. CNN admitted that most of those in the audience had voted for Obama in 2008.

UPDATE: It appears that when the audience broke the rules of the debate by applauding, the applause was started by…Michelle Obama. Not cool, not fair, and not right. But it’s her husband. I’m willing to forgive her.

The Most Irritating Misrepresentation Award

I have to give this to the President for making my head explode a second time (I had just screwed on a new one after the 72% blast) when he once again falsely described the Arizona Immigration law as he has before:

“Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers. You know what? If my daughter or yours looks to somebody like they’re not a citizen, I don’t want – I don’t want to empower somebody like that.”

The law doesn’t and never has justified stopping individuals based on looks. The President knows this, and I have to presume, since he has used this description of the Arizona law more than once and for more than two years, that he is intentionally misrepresenting it to alarm Hispanic American citizens.

But nobody can say that President Obama is divisive…



Graphic: Time

46 thoughts on “Ethics Alarms Verdicts: The Second Debate

  1. I am intensely opposed to having studio audiences for these debates, beyond the small bleacher of citizen-questioners. I give Crowley the benefit of doubt for doing her best to be fair.

  2. I noted a lot of that, Jack. I think Romney got all the respect he could have reasonably expected in such a setting. Republicans are used to attending press events with one foot stuck in a proverbial bucket of cement.

    Everyone knew that Obama would take a swipe at Romney for his ill-advised 47% remark. That, by the way, was a comment made in response to a rather snide remark from an attendee at a small gathering of contributors which was clandestinely filmed by a gate-crasher. The “47%” referred to conservative fears of an increasingly large percentage of Americans since Obama took office that have become dependent on federal bennies and are thus more likely to vote for their Annointed Benefactor. Federal social spending and constitutionalism are big issues these days. By attacking Romney this way at the very end of the debate- when he couldn’t respond- Obama obviously hoped to take the edge off Biden’s earlier debate blunder, when Ryan riposted him so well. Obama knew that Romney was prepared for the question.

    The Libya question will haunt Obama. Despite Crowley’s attempt to aid him, Romney took their fumble and ran with it… and Crowley’s “sideline tackle” only resulted in her eating a mouthful of astroturf. It was Obama’s closest flirt with an outright lie that night. As some media pundits were quick to point out, Obama’s Rose Garden response to the Benghazi attack referred to terrorists only in the general sense. He did not specifically label the attack itself as terrorism. Nor did he or any member of his administration do so (quite the contrary!) for at least eight days afterward… and then only because independent inquiries made it evident that it had been a planned attack from the outset. Another question that needs to be asked is just when an obscure video was introduced as a “causus belli” for the Jihadists and by whom. Before Benghazi, no one had even heard of it… despite its being on the market for nearly two months. I fully expect this question to be raised at the third debate.

    Obama’s last Parthian shot- that of the Arizona Immigration Law- smacked of desperation. Naturally, he was trying to shore up his slipping numbers with Latinos… just as his pathetic “glass ceiling” remarks were intended to do with women. But he was reduced to mouthing old, discredited untruths once again. The wording of the bill made it plain that officers could check a subject’s citizenship status ONLY after being stopped or arrested for another violation. In fact, one would expect that information to come forth in the course of a standard background check. The purpose of the bill was to counter the already illlegal “sanctuary city” policies of such places as Tucson and shame federal authorities into doing their jobs as are also required by law. The opposition to this- along with Obama’s remarks last night- are a matter of pure race politics.

    Obama can be credited with holding his own with Romney in style… but not in substance. He HAD to be aggressive that night, or essentially concede the election. But in his case, the aggressiveness was merely a smokescreen to disguise a pathetic record as President that he dares not let become an issue. It all comes down to how informed the television audience was before the first word was spoken.

  3. I disagree. Bad enough Romney had to debate a President who, if not a liar, is participating in a political cover-up of historic importance, but having to fight, or debate if you will, both Obama and Crowley was over the top.

    • omg? Obama a liar. wow. First, he’s not, and in light of Romney’s never ending stream of lies (take the bail out of GM for ONE example) your comment is just absurd…

      • Obama and Romney both had plenty of misrepresentations last night. The only inexcusable position—yours—is that either candidate was guiltless in that respect. That signals blind partisanship, which is anathema to ethics.

        Without even breathing hard, I can name three completely misleading statements by the President equal to or worse than any Romney comment: the utter distortion of the Arizona anti-illegal immigration law, the claim that he proposed specific immigration reforms, and his insistence that he called the Benghazi attack a terrorist attack. Lies? Opinions differ. But neither was remotely true.

        [“Hey! I didn’t come here for abuse!” “Really? Where do you usually go?”]

        • seems like you don’t know, literally, what you’re talking about. Even the moderator rectified Romney about the Benghazi comment, And ever heard of the Dream act? and Romney did call the Arizona law a model for the nation. You need to get your facts straight before you write and have a thread about ethcs. Romney, on the other totally lied on numerous occasions, which he always does, and several questions he didn’t answer at all. take for example women getting equal pay for equal work; his answer; I hired women when I worked as a governor. Good luck defending him. you need it.

          • !. “Even the moderator”? That’s exactly where she fell off her shakey perch of “impartiality”. She was also wrong.

            2. I’ve heard of the Dream Act. It’s intended to grant citizenship to illegal aliens who are liable to vote Democrat. No other purpose.

            3. The Arizona law IS a model for the nation. I’ve called it exactly that on numerous occasions.

            4. Are you suggesting that Romney doesn’t hire women… at all? My only problem with that story was that he apparently hired women merely because they WERE women. If getting the best people involves a boardroom full of dwarf Albanian goatherders, then… baaa!

            5. Romney doesn’t need defending. He does just fine on his own… when he’s allowed.

          • Marianne, I have been patient with you, but you waste my time, make ridiculous insults, and pollute the site with your ignorance, stubbornness, and refusal to pay attention. I don’t know if you are a troll, or just an idiot, but life’s too short to argue with the likes of you, and while I do accept periodic insults from those who couldn’t defeat my Jack Russell in a game of Boggle, I don’t make a habit of it. So your next comment, if there is one, and PLEASE don’t feel obligated, will be spammed, which means that you will not get back on here again.

            For the last, obviously futile response you get from me—

            1. The dispute over whether Obama meant “terrorism” when he said acts of terror, and was designating the Libyan attack as such, is pretty complicated, But Crowley conceded that Romney was essentially correct, and Obama’s claim makes no sense since he went to the UN and blamed the Libyan attack on a spontaneous demonstration over a video.
            2. The Dream Act is old, old, old, and Obama didn’t propose it in any way. Nor is it immigration reform. It reforms nothing. It makes things worse, in fact. But he didn’t propose it, and it isn’t his legislation.
            3. Knowing now that you can’t READ, i understand your bizarre comments better, but my example about Obama misrepresenting the Arizona law had nothing to do with what Romney did or didn’t say, so your response, as usual, is a non sequitur. Obama’s misrepresentation, which he is fond of, is saying that the law lets police ask individuals for their papers if they “look” like they are illegal immigrants. “Looks” has nothing to do with the law—this is the fake narrative the administration has used to forward the fiction that the law is racist.
            4. The question about women, as I explained in the previous post, was based on a false and misleading statistic, and couldn’t be answered without giving it credence.
            5. I hope you have a nice steady job in a healthy industry, and someone who loves you, because you don’t have the sense God gave a turnip, or the self-awareness to know that you need to learn, and listen occasionally.
            6. But as for Ethics Alarms, you’re done. Hasta la vista, baby!

      • Did you actually read the Op-ed piece? The second to last paragraph,

        ‘The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk. ‘

        This is exactly what Obama did, except instead of having a judge sort out the haircuts to the debt holders as is normally the case in a bankruptcy filing, he had a political appointee dole out the haircuts. See that part where it says, ‘The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing’, exactly because the credit markets were frozen and no bank would offer debtor in possession financing Romney accepted the need to have the government provide DIP financing.

        The point being, what he actually wrote four years ago has always been his position. Find me a source, a quote, tea leaves, anything which indicates his position has changed between that op-ed and what he said last night:

  4. I’m going to disagree on Crowley as well. She made a lot of fuss about who got to answer each question first, but completely ignored who got to answer last.

    I also find it amazing that she actually asked a candidate to assume they would fail to accomplish their plan (tax plan question) and state for the record what their back-up plan is. There is no end to this line of questioning, it’s turtles all the way down.

    • … or, Crowley witnessed what happened to President Obama when he tried to get his policies passed through an opposing house and a senate minority who used the filibuster at a rate of *250% of the previous record. Couple with the fact that Romney’s Tax Plan is 1/2 done at best and mathematically impossible at worst and she figured it might be a good idea to ask Romney about Plan B.

      • Nope. Whether that’s true or not, that isn’t the moderator’s job in a debate.

        And putting on my only occasionally used political science hat, the complaint about the Senate, coming from a President, amounts to, simply, “This job is too hard for me.” Other Presidents have had the skill to negotiate through hostile legislatures. All the good and effective ones, in fact. I regard this persistent excuse as nothing but a confession of inexperience, incompetence, and weakness. Obama likes ordering things to happen. He’s not king, unfortunately (or fortunately). That’s not how the American government works.

      • Assuming your assessment is correct, then it seems we need a lot of questions about Obama’s plan B, C, and D. As you point out, he has a track record of not being able to accomplish his preferred policy which is all the more reason to ask those types of hypotheticals of him. See the problem, there is no end to that line of reasoning. Mr. President, given the record of difficulty working with an obstinate democratically controlled house and filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, what if plan N does not work, what is plan N+1 Mr. President?

  5. Why did Crowley have a copy of the “Rose Garden transcript” with her in the first place and how did Obama know she had it? If all of the questions were supposed to be “secret”, how and why did Obama know she had the transcript with her? In other words, when he demanded “read him the transcript Candy”, he knew she had the transcript and it means he knew the question was going to be asked. It also explains the confident Obama as he urged Romney to “Go ahead, continue,” in that line of questioning. It was a set-up.

    • My best guess, the Obama team sent out talking points prior to the debate highlighting that passage in the Rose Garden speech. I don’t think it requires a conspiracy to know he was gong to get attacked for it, or that it would come up, but I agree both his demeanor and his “Go ahead, continue/Read the transcript” comment indicates there was some coordination on the Obama team with Crowley.

      • … or Crowley is a top shelf journalist with a Sunday morning talk show on a major cable network who has been paying attention to significant events and press conferences of both candidates. Nah, can’t be that easy…

    • If it was, it was a stupid set-up, and a risky one. Romney still could have knocked it out of the park; it harmed Crowley’s reputation, and still doesn’t explain why Susan Rice was saying something else days later.

    • Please watch the video again. Crowley did not have a copy of the Rose Garden Transcript with her at the debate. When President Obama said, “Get the Transcript” he was talking to Gov. Romney NOT Crowley.

      There was no conspiracy, there was no setup. Gov. Romney arrogantly took his argument too far and he got hammered for it. The confidence of Obama in this case was because Obama knew Romney was 100% wrong in his statement and he was 100% correct.

      Furthermore, there is zero evidence of Obama ever saying “read him the transcript Candy.” during the debate. As election seasons are filled with 1/2 truths already we don’t need people making arguments out of whole cloth.

      • I went back and looked at the transcript of the debate and you are correct, he said, ‘Get the trascript’, not ‘read the transcript’, my mistake. I never suggested there was a conspiracy between the two, just coordination and I will stand by that.

        By coordination I mean both campaigns coordinate with the media about their talking points, highlight aspects of speeches, and in general try to influence the media. I do not think Obama was told the question beforehand, in large part because everyone knew the issue was going to be brought up.

        • Brian, my reply above was meant for garlicfriesandbaseball not you. My apologies for the confusion.

          You are likely correct about the coordination between the campaigns and the media. The only evidence you need of that is the 21 page Memorandum dictating the terms of the four debates.

          That being said, if the topic for the Rose Garden press conference was so ubiquitous then saying there was coordination is kinda like saying there is coordination between weather forecasters and snowblower salesmen in October/November in the upper mid-west.

          • To whom the statement, “get the transcript” is made is unclear unclear. Due to the camera shot of the debate (which was on Romney when the statement was made) we do not have evidence from the debate video who the statement was made to. However, it is more likely the comment was to Romney to directly refute his factually inaccurate statement.

            • If you’re correct, if he made the demand to Romney, then why did Crowley answer him? Obama knows this is a major problem for him. He’s just hoping it stays in the background until after the election. It won’t. BTW ~ I appreciate your point of view. We just don’t agree.

              • I’m sympathetic to this point as ‘get the transcript’ is a present tense command, Romney had know way to get it. Further, the whole exchange seemed to me set-up, although that may be rear-view bias because Crowley did interjected. Had he said, re-read the transcript, review the transcript, if you check the transcript it says, etc. then there would not be a doubt.

                I hate to base this on semantics in a debate setting without prepared remarks, so while I’m sympathetic to your point I just can’t say either way. What I will say was that the whole episode was bizarre.

        • You’ll need to cite a source on this because I’ve not found any source that states she had the transcript with her. She is the senior political correspondent for CNN. It’s her job to know these things.

  6. Last nite (Wednesday) on Fox, O’Reilly said before sigining off, they’d just spoken with Crowley and she acknowledged she did, in fact, have the transcript with her at the debate. When asked “why”, she stated she had already chosen the questions and knew this was going to be a concern so she brought it along. It’s just all a little too fishy for me, especially since I believe Obama knew she had it ~ and Romney didn’t.

  7. The most important lies told in the debate were the shared lies that the candidates agreed on. Those are lies that most Americans won’t think to question, and the press usually won’t bother to factcheck.

    For instance, both Obama and Romney, when discussing gas prices, talked as if US Federal policy was a major influence on gas prices. It’s really, really not – oil prices are nearly entirely determined by worldwide supply and demand, and the tiny variances in that a US president can effect are just a drop in the ocean – and they both know it. But it doesn’t seem “presidential” to admit that there are problems that the President can’t address, so neither candidate wanted to go there. And as a result, both candidates in effect colluded to misinform Americans about a major piece of day-to-day checkbook economics.

    My favorite moment in the whole debate was in response to the question about ipads being manufactured in China, when Obama said (paraphrasing from memory) “the truth is, some jobs aren’t ever coming back here.” That was truthful – but a truth that it’s rare to see a politician admit, and Obama blurted it out so fast I have to wonder if he would have said it if he had taken more time to think.

    Of course, I would have liked him or Romney to point out that just because they’re not being manufactured in the US, that doesn’t mean it’s bad for US workers. There are many thousands of people working in retail selling smart phones and pads, and many thousands employed writing apps for phones and pads. It’s actually a perfect example of how economics isn’t always zero-sum, and what’s good for China can also be good for America. But both Obama and Romney were sticking with a simplistic “China is the enemy” nonsense (and talking as if the President of the US has the ability to control how China values Chinese currency). Very frustrating to watch.

Leave a Reply to Brian Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.