In two blog posts earlier this year, I have written about the importance of microphone control in a debate scenario (see "A Call for Adult Civility in the First Presidential Debate" and "The Greatest Debate, the Best Presidential Debate"). The first presidential debate on September 26 proved the need for that control as moderator Lester Holt was unable to keep Donald Trump from talking over his opponent and Hillary Clinton from occasionally using extra time.
In the previous posts, I had suggested that the moderator be able to mute the microphone for five minutes if rules set by the moderator were broken. Those rules included penalties for making disparaging remarks about the other candidates. I now think a fairer suggestion would be to use microphone control to manage time.
Under this scenario, each candidate would be able to see a panel with a green, orange and red light. The moderator (or an assistant behind the scenes) would activate the panel based on the moderator's time allowance. Two minutes to answer a question would result in activating both the green light and the microphone. With 30 seconds to go, the orange light would go on, and at 15 seconds the red light would activate. At the end of two minutes, the microphone would be deactivated. The candidate could request more time during the red light period.
If U.S. voters are to learn what policy initiatives the candidates are proposing and how they would achieve those initiatives, then the candidates have to be trained to respond to the questions they are asked and be discouraged from talking over their opponents and ignoring the moderator. A lighting system tied to a microphone shutoff would achieve that goal.
"It would take a courageous moderator to utilize this microphone control strategy ..."
A final measure of control would remain. It is time that the well-practiced art of avoiding answering questions be stifled. If the moderator asks fair questions about policy (and not about tax returns, emails, and other deviations from policy), the candidates should be willing to answer those questions directly. If the candidates avoid the question, then microphone shutoff would be available.
Ironically, while someone viewing the debate could clearly see the rude behavior of Mr. Trump both to his opponent and the moderator, he complained on NBC News the following morning that his microphone was defective and he couldn't be heard in the room.
It would take a courageous moderator to utilize this microphone control strategy, but if the debates are to be meaningful, then this strategy or something similarly effective should be implemented. It would be fair to both candidates, because both would be able to focus their remarks on their ideas and the implementation of those ideas rather than disparaging each other.