ANALYSIS: Raddatz channels Stephanopoulos in lopsided VP debate moderating performance
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz delivered just what Team Obama needed in Thursday’s vice presidential debate, a mere week after the president bumbled his way to a failure in his first one-on-one tussle with Republican Mitt Romney.
Raddatz channeled her ABC News colleague, former Bill Clinton operative George Stephanopoulos, while moderating Thursday evening’s showdown between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, conducting the event with questions and timing that benefited Biden.
Stephanopoulos infamously bombed a GOP primary debate in January, inserting his own politics and probing candidates about marginal issues. Raddatz fell prey to some of his problems Thursday night, adding a seeming unwillingness to control the flow of the debate personified in Biden’s many interruptions of his opponent. (RELATED: Stephanopoulos struggles with fairness during NH debate)
Raddatz also wrapped up the evening with a decidedly softball question that had no impact on domestic or international policy, or on presidential politics. “If you are elected,” she asked, “what could you both give to this country as a man, as a human being, that no one else could?”
Her performance came shortly after The Daily Caller reported that President Barack Obama attended her second wedding, to Obama’s current Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski. The two have since divorced and are remarried to separate spouses. (RELATED: ABC News scrambles to downplay Obama’s attendance at VP debate moderator’s wedding)
Unlike PBS’s Jim Lehrer, who allowed Gov. Mitt Romney and Obama to debate openly without interruption, Raddatz inserted herself into the discussion and created openings for Biden to attack Ryan.
She often stopped Ryan when he picked up momentum. (RELATED: Ryan spokesman: “I’m not sure I would say” Raddatz was fair)
Raddatz’s first question concerned the terrorist attack in Libya that killed America’s ambassador to the North African country. She allowed Biden to speak uninterrupted for several minutes.
When she turned to Ryan, Raddatz let the Wisconsin Republican give half an answer before interrupting with a challenge to Romney’s reaction on the day following the attack.
“I just want to ask you about — right in the middle of the crisis. Governor Romney, and you’re talking about this again tonight, talked about the weakness, talked about apologies from the Obama administration,” Raddatz interrupted. “Was that really appropriate right in the middle of the crisis?”
Biden interrupted Ryan on the first of many ocasions, shortly after he began his response, accused Ryan of making up “malarkey” in his answer. Raddatz failed to gain control of the situation, playing along with the vice president instead of returning to Ryan’s answer. “Why is that so?” she asked Biden of his accusation, opening the door for a lengthy answer.
Raddatz soon would tee up additional unchallenged soundbites for Biden, and he responded with quick, catchy answers.
And instead of allowing Ryan to respond to Biden’s claim that U.S. intelligence sources told the administration a YouTube video was responsible for a spontaneous attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi — a different story from what Congress heard this week from the State Department — Raddatz questioned Ryan on his contention that the current occupant of the White House makes frequent apologies for U.S. actions overseas.
“Mr. Ryan, I want to ask you about — the Romney campaign talks a lot about no apologies. He has a book called called ‘No Apologies.’ Should the U.S. have apologized for Americans burning Korans in Afghanistan? Should the U.S. apologize for U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses?” Raddatz asked.
“Oh, gosh, yes. Urinating on Taliban corpses? What we should not apologize for…” Ryan started to answer, before Raddatz interrupted him again.
“Burning Korans? Immediately [apologize]?” the ABC reporter jumped in.
When Biden claimed that Barack Obama has “spoken to Bibi Netanyahu as much as he’s spoken to anybody,” Raddatz failed to challenge him. Obama declined to speak with Netanyahu during the recent United Nations General Assambly in favor of making a television appearance on a comedy show.
Raddatz instead asked Biden to clarify his claim that Ryan’s contentions amounted to “a bunch of stuff.”
When Biden fumbled his answer, Raddatz thanked him “for the translation.”
As the debate shifted to domestic policy, Ryan began to directly challenge Biden by noting that the unemployment rate in Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania is”10 percent. … You know what it was the day you guys came in? 8.5 percent.”
“That’s how it’s going all around America,” Ryan began his next attack, before Biden interrupted again — with Raddatz standing on the sidelines.
“You don’t read the statistics,” Biden jabbed, talking about unemployment rates. “That’s not how it’s going. It’s going down.”
At the point where Ryan was poised to respond, Raddatz chimed in. “Two-minute answer,” she said.
Later, when Raddatz pushed the discussion toward abortion policy, she chose to only challenge Ryan after both men had spoken about how they came to different policy conclusions despite both being Roman Catholic.
“I want to go back to the abortion question here,” she said, addressing only Ryan. “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?”
Raddatz later pushed only Ryan to address “specifics” on tax cut plans. “You have refused — and, again — to offer specifics on how you pay for that 20 percent across-the-board tax cut,” Raddatz pressed. “Do you actually have the specifics? Or are you still working on it, and that’s why you won’t tell voters?”
While Ryan explained his and Romney’s strategic “framework” for the domestic economy, Biden interrupted throughout.
“Can I translate?” Biden said during one interruption. “I hope I’m going to get time to respond to this,” Biden interrupted moments later. Raddatz again failed to control the interruptions.
After Ryan restarted his answer, Raddatz editorialized: “No specifics again.”
A visibly flustered Raddatz would herself interrupt him moments later. “And you guarantee this math will add up?” she asked.
Despite Ryan’s assurance that “six studies have verified that this math adds up,” Raddatz continued pressing him while Biden watched, then offered the spotlight to the vice president.
Late in the debate, Raddatz typically allowed Biden to continue, forcing Ryan to insert himself into the conversation. As Ryan gathered steam, Raddatz cut back in and changed the subject.
In a 90-minute debate, Raddatz asked Biden only twice to defend his and President Obama’s policies and decisions. Both questions were about Libya and came near the beginning of the evening.
“It was a pre-planned assault by heavily armed men. Wasn’t this a massive intelligence failure, Vice President Biden?” Raddatz asked one time.
“What were you first told about the attack? Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on?” Raddatz asked Biden another time.
On a few occasions, Raddatz seemed to nudge Biden toward answers that were more complete than those he began with.
Contending that Paul Ryan’s calls for bipartisanship were hollow, Biden said “the bipartisanship is what he voted for: the automatic cuts in defense if [Congress] didn’t act” to trim the federal budget. he also said Ryan’s claim to be a budget cutter should fall flat because the military was already requesting the cuts Ryan advocated.
“Some of the military,” Raddatz counseled him.
“Not some of the military,” Biden answered. “That was the decision of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommended to us and agreed to by the president. That’s a fact.
Raddatz reminded Biden that the military “answers to a civilian leader.”
“They made the recommendation first,” he countered.
With that, Raddatz wrapped up the debate’s chapter on military cuts. “OK. Let’s move on to Afghanistan,” she said.
Ryan, eager to enter the conversation, asked, “Can I get into that for a second?”
“I’d like to move on to Afghanistan, please.” Raddatz insisted.
This story was updated after publication to reflect that Raddatz’ 1991 marriage to FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski was her second, not her first.