The foremost job of a debate "moderator" is to help out the Democrat, a lot of "mainstream" journalists seem to think. So the questions CNN's Candy Crowley picked for Tuesday's "town-hall" debate favored liberals, 2-1.
President Barack Obama exceeded the allotted time on most of his answers -- he spoke for three minutes and 14 seconds longer than Mitt Romney -- but Ms. Crowley interrupted Mr. Romney 28 times, the president only 9, according to a count by William Bigelow at Breitbart.com. She allowed Mr. Obama the last word on nearly every question. She cut short Mr. Romney's criticism of the "Fast and Furious" scandal -- in which the Justice Department let thousands of guns "walk" across the border to Mexican drug cartels -- and wouldn't let the GOP candidate respond to the president's mischaracterization of what Mr. Romney had said about auto-company bailouts.
But Ms. Crowley's intervention to rescue Mr. Obama from his dissembling response to a question about Libya shined a spotlight on the administration's biggest scandal.
The State Department refused requests for additional security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on 9/11/2012, noted Kerry Ladka, of Mineola, N.Y. "Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?" he asked the president.
Mr. Obama praised diplomats, said an investigation was under way and accused Mr. Romney of "politicizing" the attack. But he never answered Mr. Ladka's question.
State Department officials knew right away that this was a terrorist attack because they were watching it in "near real time" on a live feed from security cameras, they told journalists Oct. 9. So, Mr. Romney asked the president, why for more than a week afterwards did he and other senior administration officials claim that it appeared to be a "spontaneous" protest in response to a YouTube video?
"The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened," Mr. Obama responded. "That this was an act of terror, and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."
Mr. Romney was incredulous. He knew Mr. Obama was still blaming the video when he spoke to the United Nations nearly two weeks later. "I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," he said.
Referring to the Rose Garden statement, Ms. Crowley interjected, "He did in fact, sir ... call it an act of terror ..."
A grin broke out on the president's face. "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" he asked. And she did.
That exchange "was one of the best moments for the president, one of the best moments in recent debate history," Obama campaign aide Jen Psaki said the next day. Thanks to Candy Crowley. She acted like "a ref who just threw the flag," said Democratic consultant Joe Trippi.
What she did was tackle Mr. Romney as he was about to score a touchdown. The president, in my view, was lying. He did not specifically call the attack on the consulate in Benghazi an act of terror during that Rose Garden press conference, as Ms. Crowley later acknowledged. What he said was, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation ..."
Thanks chiefly to the debate exchange, a small plurality in the instant polls said the president won, even though respondents thought Mr. Romney was more presidential and they preferred his positions on the economy.
"Crowley's intervention not only ignored her duty to be a neutral moderator, it effectively swung the debate in Obama's favor," said former New York Times reporter Judith Miller.
But the win Ms. Crowley's naked bias handed the president isn't likely to last beyond Monday night. The final debate is on foreign policy. It will be hard for Mr. Obama to dodge Mr. Ladka's question then. And because of all the richly deserved criticism Ms. Crowley received, it will be harder for Monday's "moderator" to help him evade it.
Security at the Benghazi consulate was "substandard" -- a handful of unarmed, poorly trained locals instead of the customary U.S. Marines -- despite repeated requests for more from diplomats and despite the fact there'd been numerous terrorist incidents in the months leading up to 9/11/2012.
"Who was it that denied enhanced security and why?" Kerry Ladka asked. He deserves an answer.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-262-1476).