Grading the moderators: The best yet, but still lacking in places
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Of the three debates held thus far on the presidential and vice presidential level, the moderating on Sunday night from St. Louis was easily the best.

But the performance by CNN's Anderson Cooper and ABC News's Martha Raddatz wasn't exactly what one would call exemplary, particularly by the latter.

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First, it should be said that the good outweighed the bad: both Cooper and Raddatz finally did what NBC's Lester Holt and CBS's Elaine Quijano wouldn't do in the first presidential and only vice presidential debates of the cycle: actually broach some, but not all, of the top three biggest vulnerabilities of the Democrat in the room.

First question to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE via Raddatz: "And Secretary Clinton, I do want to follow up on emails. You said your handling of your emails was a mistake. You disagreed with the director — FBI Director James Comey — calling your handling of classified information, quote, ‘extremely careless.’ The FBI said that there are 110 classified emails that were exchanged, eight of which were top secret and that a possible hostile actor did gain access to those emails. You don’t call that extremely careless?"

Not one question was directly asked of Clinton on emails in the first debate, nor was it broached in this fashion in the second debate. Quijano did make a passing reference to the email scandal when asking Democratic VP nominee Tim KaineTimothy Michael KaineWeek ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny Insurer Anthem to cover bare ObamaCare counties in Virginia Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE about Clinton's trustworthiness, but nothing specifically about the leaking or mishandling of classified information. Clinton's answer was basically the same as we've heard over the past several months — I made a mistake, it won't happen again — and wasn't pressed on it by anyone other than Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE. More on that later.

First question to Trump via Cooper: "We received a lot of questions online, Mr. Trump, about the tape that was released on Friday, as you can imagine. You called what you said ‘locker room banter.’ You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. That is sexual assault. You brag that you have sexually assaulted women. Do you understand that?"

Trump would receive one more question — rightly so, given the "Access Hollywood" hot mic audio is arguably the biggest revelation of this campaign season — on the grabbing comment as a follow-up via a Facebook question. By asking these questions first, it got the elephant out of the room quickly that otherwise would have been a major distraction to those watching at home waiting for it to be asked.

Cooper doggedly pressed Trump to answer if he ever followed through on his rhetoric until Trump — who repeatedly called it "locker room talk" — answered no.

Some on Twitter thought Cooper was being too aggressive here. He wasn't, if you were assuming he would be just as dogged with Clinton throughout the debate on questions she deflected or evaded.

Back to Clinton: she also was forced to defend ObamaCare, the president's signature achievement and also a fleeting topic in the first two debates.

Audience question: "The Affordable Care Act, known as ObamaCare. It is not affordable. Premiums have gone up. Deductibles have gone up. Co-pays have gone up. Prescriptions have gone up. And the coverage has gone down. What will you do to bring the costs down and make coverage better?"

Cooper's follow-up — and a good one, given how recently the Bill ClintonBill ClintonGOP rep: North Korea wants Iran-type nuclear deal Lawmakers, pick up the ball on health care and reform Medicaid The art of the small deal MORE comment was made: "Secretary Clinton, let me follow up with you. Your husband called ObamaCare 'the craziest thing in the world,' saying that small-business owners are getting killed as premiums double, coverage is cut in half. Was he mistaken or was his mistake simply telling the truth?"

Add it all up in the first 45 minutes of the debate, and two of three of Clinton's biggest vulnerabilities were broached. But one big one — one that hadn't been raised in the first two debates — was still noticeably absent.

Back to Trump. As expected throughout the evening, he continually accused both Cooper and Raddatz of siding with Clinton against him, even at one point muttering, “One on three.”

But overall, the questions were tough on both candidates. More importantly, as we witnessed in prior debates, the candidates (relatively) weren't allowed to control the debate in terms of time and tangents. And the audience mostly stayed out of it outside of some applause early on after getting scolded by both moderators. Well done.

Now, on to the bad.

If one were to look at Clinton's biggest vulnerabilities, qualifying for one of the top two spots would have to be the Clinton Foundation.

The reasons are plentiful: the access donors received, the appointments given to donors, donations in return for speeches from Bill Clinton, and the donations from foreign governments, just to name a few items on the laundry list.

But have any of these vulnerabilities been broached by Raddatz, Cooper, Holt, Quijano? Nope.

And this isn't cherry-picking. There is no argument here. The Clinton Foundation has been a huge story throughout this campaign. And after more than 270 minutes of debate, aside from that general question posed to Kaine in the VP debate referred to earlier, not one question has specifically been asked about it. Not one. And that's just inexplicable, particularly when every one of Trump's vulnerabilities — tax returns, comments about women, birtherism — have been singled out on multiple occasions.

Another gripe: Raddatz jumped in to actually debate Trump on two occasions, the most notable happening during an exchange about telegraphing military operations to the enemy.

Trump: “Why do they have to say we're going to be attacking Mosul within the next four to six weeks, which is what they're saying? How stupid is our country?”

Raddatz: "There are sometimes reasons the military does that. Psychological warfare."

Trump: "I can't think of any. I can't think of any. And I'm pretty good at it."

Raddatz: "It might be to help get civilians out."

Sorry. Raddatz did exactly what Trump accused her of earlier: became a debate opponent. Clinton, who served as a secretary of State, could have broached Raddatz's point instead if she so chose. Or the ABC News moderator could have simply pivoted to Clinton on the next question and asked if she agreed with Trump's perspective.

Regarding follow-ups, Clinton was given a pass on almost every answer, particularly on why she deleted 33,000 emails. Trump asked the question directly, but Raddatz and Cooper — if challenging Trump in the way they did was the strategy with him — should have done the same with the Democratic nominee in the name of fairness and consistency.

Overall grade for Cooper: B+

Overall grade for Raddatz: B-

Fox News's Chris Wallace is up next, Oct. 19 in Las Vegas.

Here's hoping that he's been watching and learning from all the rights and wrongs he's seeing from the moderator side to this point.

Concha is a media reporter for The Hill.


 

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