I remember Mitt Romney’s town hall debate against Ted Kennedy in 1994. It seemed like most of the questions were premised on the desirability of state expansion. When one questioner asked a question that was critical of Kennedy, the other “undecided” voters hissed and groaned. They were about as undecided as the hosts of MSNBC’s primetime line up.
The town hall debate format has some special temptations for well meaning(ish) liberal-leaning journalists. I figure that Candy Crowley and her producers want to think well of themselves and (unlike loons such as Helen Thomas) they probably do not define a job well done as whatever helps the Democrats. But that Crowley gets to pick what audience question gets asked opens up some more psychological space for bias. When Candy Crowley is asking Candy Crowley’s questions, she is responsible for what is and isn’t asked. When she selects from the questions of others, Crowley can say (most of all to herself) that she was simply asking what the people wanted answered. She is less likely to be called to account for the questions she did not select.
This combines with the complaint from many liberals that Jim Lehrer wasn’t “tough” enough (which is to say that Lehrer wasn’t tough enough on Romney) in the first debate. In one of his book, Richard Brookhiser described “rightworld” to describe the interlocking network of conservative journalists, activists, thinkers, and politicians. Over at the old No Left Turns website I came up with a broader definition of rightworld, “But there is another rightworld too. It is one in which you get most of your media from right-leaning sources and never had to compete with sharp liberal opponents for the allegiance of persuadables or thought much about how to do so. This rightworld is much bigger and many Tea Partiers are part of it.”
Well, there is a leftworld too, and on the day after the first debate, leftworld was on fire that Romney had bullied his way to a win and that Lehrer let Romney get away with murder. Some liberal journalists dissented from this complaint, but I sense that the social circles of “mainstream” journalists like Crowley overlap substantially with the broader leftworld that was furious at Lehrer from being such a pushover that he let Romney talk almost as long as President Obama.