The Debate’s Biggest Winners: The Moderators

Thousands of viewers applauded the moderation skills of CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC's Martha Raddatz, but others described them as biased

Moderators Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz. — REUTERS
Oct 10, 2016 at 8:13 AM ET

Neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton were at their best during the second presidential debate of the season on Sunday night. But the moderators, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz, gave performances worth talking about.

During Sunday night’s town hall debate, Trump stuck to his position that 11-year-old comments about sexually assaulting women were “locker room talk,” and threatened to put Clinton in jail over her private email server if elected. The Republican nominee also admitted that he has avoided paying Federal Income Tax for years.

Clinton offered a strange defense to reports that in a Wall Street speech she said politicians need different policies in public and in private: She referred to the 2013 Steven Spielberg biopic “Lincoln,” and specifically, how the movie recounted Abraham Lincoln’s steps to play Congress in order to outlaw slavery by passing the 13th amendment. Both candidates were even asked to pick one thing they liked about each other (Trump said he “respects” Clinton’s drive; Clinton chose to compliment Trump’s children.)

As the candidates disagreed on stage, thousands of viewers using social media agreed that the moderators were the glue that held the entire evening together. Vocativ found more than 13,000 posts on Twitter from users using words such as “awesome,” “kudos,” “brilliant,” and “tough” to applaud moderators Cooper and Raddatz.

Viewers felt the team had a far better night than NBC’s Lester Holt did during the first debate in late September. Where Holt’s passive moderation style was harshly criticized, many viewers lauded Cooper and Raddatz for keeping Sunday night’s proceedings under control: Both moderators forced the candidates to wrap up their answers when they went over time, and took Donald Trump to task when he failed to provide an adequate response to questions about whether he had sexually assaulted women, and his flip-flop over his Muslim immigration ban.

We discovered approximately 7,200 tweets congratulating Cooper, and a further 6,000 commending Raddatz, from when the 90-minute debate began at 9:00 p.m. ET Sunday, until a few hours after it ended at 2:00 a.m. ET Monday. However, almost as many users were critical of the moderators, as some viewers, many of whom were Trump supporters, accused them of bias—something that also happened during the first presidential debate. We found almost 6,500 mentions of Raddatz’s name or her Twitter profile handle, along with words including “biased,” or “crooked,” or “unfair.” A further 3,500 tweets described Cooper in the same manner.