THE BLOG
09/23/2016 09:02 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2017

A Call for Adult Civility in the First Presidential Debate

"The moderator could silence the microphones for disrespectful behavior."

Questions about how Today Show Host Matt Lauer handled the NBC Presidential Forum on September 7 have raised the stakes about how NBC's Lester Holt should manage the first presidential debate on September 26. Both candidates have a history of disparaging comments, from Donald Trump's "Lying Hillary" to Hillary Clinton's "Basket of Deplorables."

The format for the debates have long been set, however, they give the moderator the authority to "regulate the conversation so that thoughtful and substantive exchanges occur" to better achieve the commission's mission of "providing the best possible information to viewers and listeners."

This is how the moderator could ensure the debates are civil and regulate the dialogue to meet the commission's mission:

  • Tell the candidates their demeanor must be respectful their opponents as people even if they don't embrace their points of view.
  • Affirm that the objective of the debate is to learn each candidate's own positions, not to blame or praise others.
  • Disallow any comments, that, in the moderator's opinion, disparage any person on stage or elsewhere.
  • Ask the candidates to answer this question as their opening statement: what are the three most important professional or volunteer positions you have held that qualify you to be president, and why do they qualify you?
  • Ask each candidate to describe in detail the three most important steps he or she would take to address each subject and to share how the country would be improved if their solutions were adopted, using understandable examples.
  • To ensure respectful demeanor is a two-way street, the moderator will promise not to ask "do you still beat your wife" questions designed to trap the candidates or embarrass them.
  • To maintain respectful dialogue, the moderator should be able to mute the microphone of each candidate. Each time a candidate is disrespectful, disparaging, or otherwise violates the moderator's rules for civil dialogue, he or she would be silenced for five minutes.
The likelihood of this proposal being adopted is small because the entertainment value of name-calling and disparaging opponents is far greater than that of civil dialogue, even though an adult information exchange would be welcomed by many. However, eliminating disrespectful behavior would help to meet the commission's mission and sort out the views and capabilities of each of the candidates.