CBS News' Bob Schieffer had perhaps the most subdued time of all the debate moderators in the 2012 campaign cycle.
Schieffer played a muted role during the debate. Jim Lehrer, who was criticized for his stumbling attempts to control the first debate, actually seemed to be more of a presence, because he tried to intervene more. Schieffer seemed to disappear for minutes at a time. The host's first question focused on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. After both President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, Schieffer let the Republican presidential candidate respond to Obama without interruption. Schieffer rarely interrupted or interjected, but managed to maintain a nearly equal amount of time between the two candidates.
Unlike previous debates, the chatter on Twitter seemed to focus primarily on the candidates and content, as opposed to the moderator. Lehrer's moderating performance was savaged on social media sites, and users were quick to comment on ABC News' Martha Raddatz's confrontational performance. CNN's Candy Crowley drew intense criticism and praise after her controversial live fact check.
But Schieffer did not initially garner such attention. Perhaps due to the subject matter, or his demeanor, Schieffer stayed primarily out of the debate fray. He dutifully guided the conversation from question to question. His follow-up questions did not seem to draw any notable criticism or praise.
However, trouble came calling about a half hour into the debate. Both candidates started pulling the debate back to the domestic issues that voters are overwhelmingly focused on during the election. Teachers' unions, balanced budgets, Obamacare — it all went a bit off-topic. Schieffer seemed to be unwilling or unable to move the conversation back to international issues for some minutes.
"Schieffer is good but it will take mighty powers to keep this debate on foreign affairs," New York magazine's Frank Rich tweeted.
"Bob Schieffer is at the salad bar," The Nation's Jeremy Scahill chimed in.
"Uh-oh, Bob Schieffer's been Lehrered," Guardian writer Emma Keller wrote.
"Let me get us back to foreign policy," Schieffer finally said. Romney interrupted the CBS host asking to respond to Obama's education criticism. "OK," Schieffer said.
"I want to try to shift it, because we have heard some of this in the other debates," Schieffer said of the debate. He then asked the Republican presidential candidate how he will fund increases to the military's budget. Romney responded by saying he would cut domestic policies including Obamacare.
Schieffer managed to wrest the proceedings back to foreign policy, at one point firmly thwarting Romney's attempts to talk about a different topic. At certain points, he showed a tart wit. "I think we all love teachers," he said as he cut off a Romney stemwinder about education.
He also made an all too familiar flub, calling Osama bin Laden "Obama bin Laden."
Schieffer did get praised for asking about drones, a subject that had not appeared in any previous debate. But he was also criticized for keeping the focus almost entirely on the Middle East. MSNBC's Chris Matthews, for instance, said there was "far too much" focus on Israel (he added that the candidates "pandered" to voters on the issue) and the Middle East, at the expense of the rest of the globe. There was no mention of Europe and only glancing mentions of Africa and Latin America.
"I thought it lacked any kind of originality and importance," Matthews said.
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