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Top Five Worst Moments of the MSNBC Democratic Debate

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Top Five Worst Moments of the MSNBC Democratic Debate

Photo of Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press: Alex Wong/Getty Images

WORST MOMENT #2 - Tim Russert, Judge, Jury & Limelight Hog

Tim Russert, blowhard moderator of the MSNBC Democratic debate in New Hampshire, logged more televised talking time than any of the candidates.

Russert (19 minutes, 25 seconds) used 11% more airtime than Hillary Clinton (17 minutes, 37 seconds), 44% more airtime than Barack Obama (13 minutes, 30 seconds), 58% more airtime than John Edwards (12 minutes, 17 seconds) and 67% more airtime than Bill Richardson (11 minutes, 49 seconds). (Source: The Talk Clock from ChrisDodd.com, via MyDD.)

In contrast, previous 2007 Democratic debate moderators... Anderson Cooper of CNN, Tavis Smiley of PBS, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News... logged significantly less talking time than the top candidates, thereby ensuring that they didn't narcissistically hog the limelight.

Demeaning, Unanswerable Questions

Russert used (misused?) the time not to illuminate the issues or to inspire discussion by or between the candidates, but to trap, to trick, and to otherwise humiliate... thereby creating highly repeatable, quotable soundbites and national election ammunition for Republicans.

For example, the following is a small sampling of the impossible-to-answer, lavishly detailed, demeaning quasi-questions posed by Mr. Russert during the debate:

"MR. RUSSERT (to Gravel): You were in the Senate, and you take credit for stopping the draft. If you were a senator right now, what advice would you give your colleagues still in Congress about how they can stop the war even though they don't have enough votes to stop a debate or to override a veto?"

"MR. RUSSERT (to Clinton): ... Senator Clinton, as first lady, your major initiative was health care. You acknowledge that you did some things wrong in that. Democrats and Republicans both rejected your proposal. You said that the most important vote you cast in the Senate was on the Iraq war. You voted for it.

If, in fact, you made fundamental misjudgments on health care as first lady and the war as senator, why shouldn't Democratic voters say, 'She doesn't have the judgment to be president'? "

"MR. RUSSERT (to Obama):... You have served in the U.S. Senate about 33 months. You have no landmark legislation as such that you have offered. When you were elected back in 2004, you said, quote, 'The notion that somehow I am going to start running for higher office, it just doesn't make sense.'

If it didn't make sense in 2004, why does it make sense now?"

"RUSSERT (to Edwards): Your campaign has hit some obstacles with revelations about $400 haircuts, $500,000 for working for a hedge fund, $800,000 from Rupert Murdoch.

Do you wish you hadn't taken money in all those cases or hadn't made that kind of expenditure for a haircut?"

"MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Kucinich, when you were mayor of Cleveland, you let Cleveland go into bankruptcy, the first time that happened since the Depression. The voters of Cleveland rewarded you by throwing you out of office and electing a Republican mayor of Cleveland.

How can you claim that you have the ability to manage the United States of America, when you let Cleveland go bankrupt?"

"MR. RUSSERT: Governor Richardson, you talk about your experience, and yet when you were the secretary of Energy, there was security breaches at Los Alamos. You talked about Justice White being your favorite Supreme Court justice, someone who voted against Roe v. Wade. New Mexico ranks 48 in terms of people below the poverty line, 48th in children below the poverty line.

You said that being gay is a choice. Based on those kinds of comments and that record of performance or questionable activities, how can you tell people you have the experience to be president?"

"MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, if you are the nominee, it will be 28 years, from 1980 to 2008, where there's been a Bush or a Clinton on the national ticket. Is it healthy for democracy to have a two-family political dynasty?"

Irrelevant Questions, Ignoring the Issues

Russert's cynical low-blow questions were clearly not aimed at improving the human condition, or at addressing the challenges facing the American people.

And did you notice? He asked NO questions about either education or health care insurance, which are considered the top domestic priorities by a majority of all voters. Both health care insurance and education are vital issues for which Democrats have popular, fully-fleshed proposals, and Republicans have no solutions.

But Tim Russert did find plenty of time for irrelevant subjects as smoking in public places, the legal drinking age, a religious litmus test, and baseball playoff prognostications.

Quizzes, Not Issues

While hogging the camera time, Russert repeatedly pushed the candidates to respond in 30-seconds or less, and even dubbed one set of his questions as a Jeopardy-style "lightening round."

The problem with our country under the Bush administration has been governance by 30-second sound-bites and poorly-planned policies.

The MSNBC Democratic debate in New Hampshire demanded the same kind of smile-and-a-wink superficial thinking as that of the Bush administration. A "lightening round" quiz show is clearly inadequate to articulate thoughtful policies and well-planned program proposals.

But then again, apparently Tim Russert never intended his debate to be about thoughtful policies, well-planned proposals, or articulate discussions of the most pressing issues facing our great country.

The MSNBC Democratic debate was more about... well, Tim Russert.

For complete debate coverage, see:

Rating Hillary Clinton - Cumulative Scoreboard for the Debates
Rating Barack Obama - Cumulative Scoreboard for the Debates
Rating John Edwards - Cumulative Scoreboard for the Debates
Rating Bill Richardson - Cumulative Scoreboard for the Debates

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