Newt Gingrich's comments this week about refusing to participate in a presidential debate if it were moderated by a standard-issue MSM "journalist" got me to thinking. While I tend to agree with Mitt Romney's sharp comeback that Newt isn't likely to have to worry about the panel makeups this fall (disclaimer: I don't particularly like anybody who's still running for president this year, and that includes both candidates named above), Newt had a point.
It's a foregone conclusion that anybody pulled out of the old three networks plus PBS would be at the very least sympathetic towards Obama, so why would the GOP nominee agree to a one-sided questioner in such an important event? And let's be honest, the Chicago crowd would not be terribly happy if, say, Brit Hume were one of the panelists, either.
So who do you choose? Nary a name in the major media leaps to mind; virtually every television talking head or major newspaper figure with television experience (and that would be a requirement for this job) would be viewed as a potential partisan by one side or the other--and in most cases, for good reason. For a couple of elections there Jim Lehrer of PBS was the default moderator, but he's long-since worn out his welcome, particularly with Republicans and/or conservatives.
What you really want for a presidential debate moderator is somebody who is trusted (or at the very least, not distrusted) by both sides , who has vast knowledge of American politics and policy, who will do their homework in extraordinary depth beforehand, and who's got solid experience as an on-camera interviewer.
In other words, you want Brian Lamb of C-SPAN. Lamb has a bipartisan past (he worked in both the Johnson and Nixon White Houses before going into broadcasting), and has assiduously pursued an utterly non-partisan stance for decades as the CEO and senior interviewer for C-SPAN. He's interviewed thousands of political figures over the years, including every president since LBJ, and I defy anybody to tell me what his personal politics are.
All you have to do it watch a couple of Lamb's in-depth interviews to know that he is meticulous in preparation and adept at getting illuminating answers out of his subjects. I would also add that unlike most of the network talking heads, Lamb is highly unlikely to pop off with "look at me" gotchas designed to show off how witty the moderator is, at the expense of an actually meaningful question and/or answer.
Lamb is currently 70 years old, and as a matter of course avoids the limelight, so he might well refuse this particular job, but I think it's well worth the effort to put his name out there now as the single most logical (and reasonable) choice to moderate the 2012 presidential debates.