Unlike Jim Lehrer, who moderated the first debate, Crowley was no shrinking violet afraid to mix it up with the big boys. And this led to the debate’s single most dramatic moment – when Mitt Romney claimed that Obama had waited two weeks before declaring the attack on our Libyan embassy and murder of our ambassador an act of terror. In fact, Obama had made that call the next day in a Rose Garden news conference. And when Romney pressed his claim over Obama’s demurral, Crowley corrected Romney. “He did in fact call it an act of terror.”
“Can you say that a little louder?” Obama happily asked, and Crowley did.
The instant third party fact-checking burst Romney’s specious claim. Sans Crowley, Romney’s misstatement and Obama’s rejoinder to “check the transcript” would have been water under the bridge, to be argued later by talking heads. With Crowley, the misstatement was instantly corrected, the effect electrifying. A professional journalist had put both candidates on notice that if he misstated a fact she knew to be wrong, she might immediately call him out on it.
Equally riveting was a talk of pay equity. Obama discussed how he had helped push through the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act, named for a tire plant supervisor who belatedly discovered she was being paid less than male peers, and sued. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against her, saying that she had sued too late. Picking up her cause, the Obama administration passed the Ledbetter Act, effectively overruling the Supreme Court decision.
Romney’s response? The Republican candidate again avoided commenting on the act. Instead, he pointed out that he had put together “binders full of women” to recruit them into state government, and that he supported flex time to help out mothers. So while women make 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, is Romney arguing that his “binders full of women” coupled with flex time are equivalent to equal pay? Can’t employees – including, incidentally, single fathers - have both flex time and equal pay for equal work?
But the third moment which caught me by surprise came not from a candidate, but from a CBS camera person with an unusual angle. As Romney’s answer to a question was televised, the CBS shot included the digital background clock. But when the clock, timed for two minutes, reached zero and turned from green to red, Romney, rather than summing up his argument in a sentence or two, kept going like an intoxicated driver casually sailing through a stop sign, not even bothering to take a second look. Doubtlessly, Obama did the same on other occasions. Still, the impact of that clock was striking . Instead of concentrating on what Romney said, I was instead riveted by how Romney knowingly ignored the rules, openly cheating during the debate – like a tennis player I knew who excels at his game, but felt compelled to make bad calls to get extra, illicit points.
I would have preferred – hint hint to the networks – that the clock be constantly displayed as each candidate speaks, giving us an X-ray into each candidate’s character. Better yet would be having the clock not just turning red and stopping at zero, but continue counting into the red zone, measuring how far and how long the candidate cheats. Instead of waiting for a moderator even as energetic as Crowley trying to put the brakes on a dishonestly verbose candidate, we viewers would instead see the illicit overtime behavior with our own eyes.
No, Romney was no slouch as he pranced around the stage looking Presidential, with both candidates running over time, and over each other. But unlike when Romney went up against Obama’s dismal first performance, this time Romney met his match in aggressiveness and appearance, that stand-off shifting the debate to substance. And on that, Obama was the clear winner.
Except for Candy Crowley.By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist