Before an election, the nominees for president usually go head-to-head in a televised debate, where they get to discuss the issues and – hopefully – show how they are a superior candidate to their opponent. But this can turn into chaos, with each candidate attacking the other, or turning the discussion personal. That’s why a moderator is there to ask questions and make sure the event goes smoothly.
With proper moderation, a debate should be orderly and informative for the American voters. The moderator is not there to influence the election’s outcome but to direct the flow of information for voters to make an educated decision. Ideally, a good moderator will be like a good waiter at a restaurant. If he does his job correctly, you are being served without even noticing his presence.
#1: No Audience Laugh Track
Many presidential debates have allowed for a studio audience to give audible feedback to the candidates: applause, cheering, laughter, and booing. It unconsciously assigns opinions to the viewer. In the early days of television, sitcoms had laugh tracks to tell the viewers at home when to laugh and what to consider funny. While this is fine for entertainment, it is inappropriate for political debate because the format then skews the outcome.
#2: Focus on Policies
The moderator’s job is to highlight the political platforms of the candidates. What do they offer the American people? What will they do as president? By being forward-looking and policy-oriented, the moderator enables each candidate to present a positive vision of what they would like to achieve. These goals may be unrealistic or based on lies, but it should be up to the other candidate to expose any flaws, not the moderator. It works best when the candidates are assigned time slots for questions and responses.
The more mechanical this process is, the better behaved the candidates will be. For instance, in the question segment, the candidates may be given one minute to respond to a claim. The candidate should then see a clock counting down and be signaled when 15 seconds remain. It’s a technique that solves the issues of interruption. It works with kids in kindergarten, and amazingly, it works with politicians too.
#3: Get the Facts Straight
A moderator may make statements of facts as part of his questioning, but such factual claims should be uncontroversial and accepted by all. The greatest sin a moderator can commit is to present a false statement as accurate.
#4: Don’t Be Confrontational
A moderator’s role is to guide the themes and information flow of the debate. It is not his role to be confrontational toward the candidates. That should be left to the debaters.
#5: Don’t Be Divisive
Merriam-Webster defines the verb “to moderate” as “to lessen the intensity or extremeness of” or “to become less violent, severe, or intense.” These definitions give a good indication of the primary function of a moderator.
Under no circumstances should he be divisive. It is especially true today when the population is more divided than at any time since the American Civil War.