"I'm not going to say I've done a poor job..."
That was Jim Lehrer's assessment of his performance as the moderator of the first presidential debate of the 2012 election. Sadly for him, many disagreed.
It was Lehrer's 12th time moderating, but he was largely unsuccessful in his attempts to corral the candidates. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney rolled right over him as, with increasing plaintiveness, he tried to get them to stop talking. "No, no, no," he said to Romney at one point. Romney didn't listen.
By the end of the debate, Obama and Romney had taken so much free time that Lehrer had to inform them that they would not get to one of the 15-minute segments he had intended to moderate.
The reviews on Twitter were scathing. Conservative columnist John Podhoretz called Lehrer possibly "the worst moderator in the history of moderation." Even the normally mild-mannered Al Roker took a shot at Lehrer.
"I hope Jim Lehrer gets the license plate of the truck that drove over him in this debate," he tweeted.
It wasn't long before Lehrer got his own parody Twitter feed, "Silent Jim Lehrer":
The reviews on television were little better.
"I personally do not know who won this debate," Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC. "I do believe that we saw this debate format die a very painful death on camera tonight ... the format and, I think, the moderator, honestly, with all due respect to Jim Lehrer."
Fox News' Chris Wallace said that Lehrer "seemed to lose control" of the proceedings.
Lehrer's questions, which all asked the candidates if they thought there were "differences" between their views on broad policy topics, also came in for criticism.
"Crazy that Lehrer thinks any of these answers will come in under 15 mins given how broad the questions are," MSNBC's Alex Wagner tweeted.
Lehrer did have his defenders. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple wrote that he had moderated an excellent debate:
He also gets points off among the commentariat for allowing himself to be steamrolled by the candidates. Okay, so the guy fails in a test of wills against two men who are putatively the most strong-willed people in the country.
Lerher’s real problem was that, for one night, he hads to play stand-in for the entire American media. And if there’s one thing the American public enjoys, it’s bashing the American media, no matter how it performs.
UPDATE: Lehrer responded to questions about his handling of the debates in a statement to HuffPost's Michael Calderone:
I thought the format accomplished its purpose, which was to facilitate direct, extended exchanges between the candidates about issues of substance. Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so. My only real personal frustration was discovering that ninety minutes was not enough time in that more open format to cover every issue that deserved attention.
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