Did Megyn Kelly follow a precedent set by Candy Crowley when she moderated the Republicans’ first presidential debate for 2015 on Fox News recently? Crowley is remembered for siding with President Barack Obama against Governor Mitt Romney during the presidential debates of 2012. Romney entered the second debate with a six point lead in the polls. But Crowley interrupted the debate to inform millions of viewers that Romney was wrong when he criticized the president regarding comments about terrorists and Benghazi.
Many observers felt that dramatic moment turned the tide of the presidential race. Was Crowley’s interruption a violalion of the rules of the debate? The answer to that question is different depending on whom one asks. Republicans say Crowley did violate the rules while Democrats defended her saying she was within the rules. Ironically, Kelly at the time criticized Crowley.
Crowley promised for days before that debate she would interject herself into the debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, according to a Daily Beast article. When Romeny attacked the president for the administration’s shifting explanations of the attack of American diplomats in Libya, he appeared to be scoring points.
“For fourteen days he refused to call it an act of terror,” Romney said as the nation watched.
Obama objected, telling Romney to check the transcript. He said he did refer to it as an act of terrorism before 14 days. Crowley then did something unparalleled. She sided with one of the debaters. With five fateful words she sided with Obama. She informed Romney, “He did in fact, sir.”
Former New Hampshire Republican governor John Sununu told reporters, “Both the moderator (Crowley) and the president were dead wrong on the Libya question.” He further said, “Candy was wrong. Candy had no business doing that…I think Candy Crowley decided she wanted to be an active part of the debate.”
Crowley also gave the president three minutes longer to speak than she allotted to Romney. Democrats spoke favorably of Crowley, saying, “Governor Romney was fact-checked by the moderator.” David Axelrod claimed there was nothing wrong with Crowley interjecting her opinion into the debate.
There was also a pre-debate disagreement about a memorandum of understanding between the campaigns saying “the moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates.” Crowley later claimed she never saw the memo.
Did Crowley set a new standard allowing moderators to be more aggressive during debates than had been the case before her dramatic moment?
Crowley left CNN shortly after her historic role in the October 16, 2012 debate. Did her aggressive interjection into that debate set the stage for a more active role for moderators in the Fox debate recently?
Kelly’s most controversial question was directed at Donald Trump. She said, “Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women. You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.’ Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the termperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nomenee, that you are a part of the war on women?”
Conservatives have since deluged the Internet with criticisms of Kelly. She essentially labeled Trump a “general in the war on women”, because he says nasty things on his Twitter account and on reality television, according to Breitbart News.
Kelly has also been criticized for failing to mention that Rosie O’Donnell provoked Trump’s remarks by her mocking of women who participated in his pageants as well as women in his family, past and present. There was actually a lawsuit between O’Donnell and Trump to which Kelly didn’t allude to put the question in context.
Kelly later defended herself against the tidal wave of criticisms which clogged Facebook and Twitter accounts. She said on Fox, “We had anticipated that some in the audience might boo us during the middle of our questions. They can boo us, and some people are booing us now on Twitter. But that’s all part of it.”
She further said, “He felt attacked…it wasn’t an attack, it was a fair question. But I get it. He’s in the arena and so am I,” according to The Hill.
The big question may be whether future moderators will feel emboldened by Crowley’s and Kelly’s aggressive roles to further expand their power in these venues. It was interesting that Kelly received support from liberals while most of her criticism came from conservatives.