Bob Schieffer is heading into Monday night's third and final presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney with little of the controversy that surrounded some of his predecessors.
It sometimes seems as if debate moderation has become the poisoned chalice of the 2012 cycle. The chosen few have found themselves the targets of harsh media scrutiny.
But there has been no concerted effort from conservative media circles to tie him to Obama, as there was for Martha Raddatz. And the campaigns have not complained about any of his moderating plans, as they did for Candy Crowley.
Perhaps that is in part because Schieffer has been keeping a very low profile. CNN featured repeated interviews and reports on Crowley in the days leading up to her debate, and she talked to outside outlets (including The Huffington Post) about her plans. Schieffer, on the other hand, has done barely any interviews, and even recused himself from any CBS debate coverage for a month. His weekly commentary on Sunday's "Face the Nation," which aired from the debate site, was about cell phones.
Still, given the intense focus that surrounded all three moderators during post-debate coverage, it seems likely that Schieffer's relatively easy ride will end the moment he opens his mouth at 9 PM on Monday night.
Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding Schieffer came when people questioned the CPD's decision to retain him and Jim Lehrer, saying that they should be replaced in favor of younger, more diverse moderators. Schieffer is cut from similar cloth as Lehrer — both are Southern septuagenarians and longtime Beltway insiders noted more for their genial manner than for a confrontational style. Lehrer was attacked relentlessly for not jumping in more during his debate. Schieffer will be using the exact same format as Lehrer, so viewers will be keen to observe any differences in their styles.
In an interview with the Palm Beach Post on Sunday, Schieffer signalled that he would follow Lehrer's general method, with perhaps a little more intervention:
I pose a question, each candidate has two minutes to respond, and then a general discussion for the rest of the segment. I think it would be great if I could pose a question and the two men could answer and the other guy says “That can’t be right,” and they get into it. I wouldn’t intervene in that because they would be expanding the discussion. If it gets off topic, I won’t hesitate to say, “Can we get back on subject?” I’ve got a loose-leaf binder of questions I’ve been working on for five weeks that’s about three inches thick. We probably won’t get to all of them. In those 15 minute segments, they‘re free to ask each other questions and if they do it will be terrific.