Bob Schieffer was easily the worst moderator of the four selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the one who most clearly favored John Kerry. This might not be surprising–after all, CBS has emerged this year as the network favoring John Kerry to the point of spreading forged documents across the country to paint Bush as a man who defied orders.
The spin was apparent from the first question, when Schieffer asked, “Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?” This echoes the Kerry back-to-normalcy theme, that we should have less terror over terror. A week ago, Gwen Ifill jumped on the latest war news, Paul Bremer’s saying that more troops were needed in Iraq. Schieffer failed to press Kerry on the most recent controversy over his statement that terrorism should be a “nuisance,” like prostitution and gambling. He also failed to ask about John Edwards’s suggesting people in wheelchairs would walk if Kerry and Edwards were elected.
With Bush, Schieffer seemed eager to push him into extreme-right territory, demanding he answer whether he wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and then asking why he “did nothing” as the assault-weapons ban expired. He asked Bush what he would say to an American whose job was just outsourced to another country. Schieffer’s questions were laced with liberal terminology, from “a woman’s right to choose” to “affirmative action.”
Two questions stood out as the most biased to Kerry last night. The first was on the draft issue, a strange choice for a domestic-policy debate. Schieffer asked: “Senator, the last debate, President Bush said he did not favor a draft. You agreed with him. But our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments. Some of them say that it’s a back-door draft. Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families?”
“Some of them” say it’s a backdoor draft? John Kerry has been saying it’s a backdoor draft all year. Schieffer wasn’t so much asking Kerry a question as reading his campaign brochure to him.
The other read-the-brochure question came just minutes before: “The gap between rich and poor is growing wider. More people are dropping into poverty. Yet the minimum wage has been stuck at, what, $5.15 an hour now for about seven years. Is it time to raise it?” Schieffer only failed in utterly servile liberal bias by not asking “isn’t it time” to raise the minimum wage?
Schieffer did ask two tougher questions about what President Kerry would do: How would he pay for his “massive” health-care plan, and would he just leave Social Security alone and kick the can of reform down the path? But the real bias in Schieffer’s questions came in how they emphasized every bad-news assumption, suggesting that the country is going in the wrong direction under President Bush. Reread the previous paragraph to see how rich and poor are dividing and more people are dropping into poverty.
Take this fairly tough question to Kerry, suffused with assumptions about “skyrocketing” inflation: “You pledged during the last debate that you would not raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 a year. But the price of everything is going up, and we all know it. Health care costs, as you all talking about, is skyrocketing, the cost of the war. My question is, how can you or any president, whoever is elected next time, keep that pledge without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we’re running up to our children?”
One question to Bush did the same: “Health-insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years according to the Washington Post. We’re paying more. We’re getting less.” His next question to Bush was, “We all know that Social Security is running out of money, and it has to be fixed.” Even the flu-shot question underlined the bad news. Schieffer couldn’t imagine asking a question about anything positive happening during the Dubya Era that John Kerry might reverse if elected.
Even when pressing Kerry on the question of Catholic bishops, Schieffer went soft: “Some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman’s right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem-cell research. What is your reaction to that?” Whereas Schieffer challenged that Bush had “done nothing” on furthering gun control, Schieffer didn’t ask why Senator Kerry has “done nothing” to defend the culture of life his church seeks to create and uphold. It would have been better to ask Kerry whether he had considered leaving the Catholic Church for a more hospitable environment for his permissive, abortion-on-demand worldview.
If John Kerry wins this election, the media elite will declare that the debates were the turning point. Then, it will be up to Republicans to explain to their supporters why they took the debate-moderator question so unseriously, and why they allowed themselves to be placed at a competitive disadvantage by letting liberal moderators set the agenda. Bob Schieffer surely underlined the need for more Republican spine on this negotiating point. Dan Rather must have watched his friend spin the debate toward Kerry and smiled.
–Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and an NRO contributor.