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Was Lehrer weak or were Romney, Obama more aggressive in debate?

October 05, 2012|By James Rainey
(Saul Loeb / AFP/GettyImages )

Presidential debate moderator Jim Lehrer has taken a lot of flak for letting President Obama and Mitt Romney walk all over him in their first encounter Wednesday night.

A study of the debate suggests that the two candidates were more aggressive than in 2008, when Obama debated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in front of the same moderator.

The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University counted a total of 30 times that Obama and Romney interrupted Lehrer this week. Obama and McCain, in their first debate, interrupted him just 10 times.

The media research unit also assessed how often Lehrer asked open-ended questions for information, versus “challenge” questions that demanded the candidates sharpen the distinctions between them. Seven of the 27 questions Wednesday were challenge questions — 26% of the total, compared with 21% challenge questions in 2008.

“Lehrer was just as aggressive in his questions as he was four years ago,” said S. Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “But the candidates were less willing to let him ask them.”

Criticism by Politics Now and other media of Lehrer’s performance has met a mixed response from voters. Some said they wanted Lehrer to be more aggressive — fact-checking the candidates and forcing them to clarify.

Others argued that the veteran newsman, moderator of 12 presidential debates, did just the right thing by shrinking into the background.

“A good referee knows when to let the game play on,” said one reader. “America got one of the best presidential debates in history and maybe Lehrer helped let that happen.”

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesrainey

MORE COMMENTARY FROM JAMES RAINEY:

Debate moderator ‘Silent Jim Lehrer’ gets one last turn

Presidential debate: Round One goes to Romney, by many measures

Romney on a roll? Remember John Kerry, in debate, beat George W. Bush

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