Chris Dodd may not have made much of a dent in last night's Democratic presidential debate on CNN — though we agreed with his comment noting the importance of foreign languages to participation in a global economy — but he has certainly made himself heard following. After the debate, Dodd's people posted a "Talk Clock" on his website ranking the candidates' airtime/facetime — hardly the stuff of strict time limits and scrupulous fairness. Not surprisingly, the top spot went to Barack Obama with an even 16 minutes, followed by Hillary Clinton with 14:26, followed by...CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer, who racked up a whopping 13:24 — more than six other candidates, and equal to the combined time of the bottom two candidates, Joe Biden and Mike Gravel.*
Dodd's point? That CNN — and Bliter — ran an extremely arbitrary and inequitable ship. Adding insult to injury, Blitzer failed to play by his own rules, i.e. observing the "honor system" of limiting his remarks to the alotted time. Did we REALLY need a primer on candidate introductions, a sample Blitzer introduction, and then his commentary on that introduction? How about that detailed explanation of how, exactly, the stage would be broken up and re-formed between the first and second hours? Yawn. Blitzer! Show, don't tell!
And the interruptions! Blitzer began by bragging that this debate wouldn't be marred by "loud bells and flashing lights" — just his hemming and hawing interruptions, delivered whenever he felt like a candidate was saying too much, which usually meant at about 0.5 seconds for Kuchinich and never for Obama. (And they betrayed an utter lack of timing: Consider how, after building up to Hillary for the question "How would you use the former President Clinton?" he actually interrupted her answer. Way to step on your own dramatic finish there, Wolf!). Meanwhile, the questions seemed randomly assigned, and by "randomly" I mean "according to status as frontrunner."
Sure, the frontrunners are the candidates we're interested in right now, and sure, it was fun to see Edwards and Obama sniping at each other (meow! Catfight! Bitchslapping! Hen-clucking! All those other words that would be used if they were two women!). But at the end of the day, CNN was hosting a debate for all the candidates — and for all the voters. IT fell to them to conduct it fairly, and equitably, and according to clearly-defined rules. Memo to Wolf Blitzer: The honor system only works if you abide by it.
*Biden had 7:58 and Gravel had 5:37 which equals 13:35. We figure that second is easily made up by the aggregate of Wolf's interruptions.