Tonight, CNN’s Candy Crowley will be playing a remarkably enormous role in the 2012 presidential election. She — and she alone — will decide what topics President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney discuss, and she has vowed that after a candidate has answered a question she has chosen from a “random” town-hall audience member, she can say, “Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?”
In so doing, the hostess from the floundering cable channel — so liberal it was once dubbed the Clinton News Network — can easily guide the 90-minute debate into the “strengths” of Mr. Obama and the “weaknesses” of Mr. Romney. Will she?
You bet she will. It’s the media’s last chance to protect Their Chosen One, and they’ve got just the right person serving up softballs — a talk show commentator who, after Mr. Romney selected Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, said the choice reflected a “death wish” for the ticket.
Now, in Mr. Obama’s first narcoleptic debate, the president didn’t mention any of the topics he chooses for his almost-always-entirely-false TV commercials. He didn’t bring up the evil Bain Capital, a company Mr. Romney actually did build, didn’t mention how much the multimillionaire pays in taxes (Only $15 million? Pay more!), skipped the Republican’s secretly taped disparagement of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no taxes, and never said a word about Romneycare, which he claims was the blueprint for the still extremely unpopular Obamacare. He could have; he didn’t.
But tonight, Ms. Crowley will have the chance to lob a slew of 75-mph hanging curveballs, with the help of those town-hallers. And just who are they? The Gallup Organization — yes, the same polling firm sued by the Obama Justice Department that changed its methods with just weeks to go to lift up the Flagging One (and which, for the record, was No. 20 on the list of most accurate in the 2008 election) — has found 80 to 100 “undecided” voters.
Sure, you may say to your busy self, your intelligent self, “Who on Earth is undecided with just 21 days to go?” and, “Um, wonder who they voted for last time?” Of course, you’d be spot on: No one is truly “undecided,” everyone’s leaning one way or the other — it isn’t like one candidate will blah blah blah for 90 seconds and that “undecided” is going to go: “Boom, there it is. Great answer. I’m on board.”
According to the plan, once in the debate hall tomorrow, the “undecideds” will jot their questions onto cards and hand them over to Ms. Crowley. Yes, some will ask “Just what the hell happened in Benghazi when an American ambassador was killed?” or “Can you tell us just what went down when you were running guns across the Mexican border without tracking devices and American border agents ended up dead?” or “What makes you think you can work with Congress when you’ve spent the last four years rejecting all compromise and deriding anyone who opposes your liberal agenda?”
Maybe someone will remember: “You pledged in 2008 to cut the deficit in half in your first term but you’ve added $6 trillion to it: Explain.” And there just might be that Romney-leaning Letterman fan (Do they exist?) who asks, “Do you even know what the deficit is?” (On the late-night talk show, Mr. Obama answered the same question with, “I don’t know what the number is, precisely.”)
But those likely won’t be the cards pulled by the CNN host. And will that be surprising? Not by a long shot.
In May, she said that most people think Republicans are “conservative white guys who want to protect big oil.” (Racist? Please — a Democrat said it.) In June, after a torrent of leaks from the White House, she said, “Usually you kind of give the president a pass on leaking confidential stuff” (unless it’s President Bush and Valerie Plame). And she has sought to link the small-government tea party with racism, dismissed a Republican senator’s assertion that Mr. Romney was doing fine with a snide “Really?” and eulogized Ted Kennedy by saying he was “an often reckless young man who lived hard and as a U.S. senator drove a car off a bridge after a party, killing a young campaign aide.” And swam away. No biggie.
In 2008, another stalwart of “unbiased” journalism, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, moderated the cycle’s town hall debate and got to his own X, Y and Z’s, just as Ms. Crowley vows to do, asking a slew of his own biased questions. Polls afterward showed a decisive win for The One: Gallup put it at Mr. Obama 53 percent, John McCain 32 percent; CNN said the first-term Illinois senator won 54-30.
Despite all the reports today that Ms. Crowley will toe the line — let Americans ask their own questions, then move to the next — she has the microphone. And the Media’s Man is going down in a ball of flames. America’s media is not about to let that happen. Prepare for the ugliest debate ever — ever.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.