A lot of debate news has transpired in recent weeks ever since the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) canned the Oct. 15 debate after President Trump refused to participate in a “virtual” debate format. The CPD cited the possibility that the President, still battling Covid-19 at the time, wouldn’t be medically cleared to attend the debate in-person.
As a result of Trump pulling out, the debate commission canceled the Oct. 15 debate entirely. The decision to cancel the debate had another impact, however, and that involves the debate moderator, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully.
The moderator of the planned second debate between President Trump and Joe Biden sparked objectivity questions after he publicly asked former White House comms chief-turned-Trump foe Anthony Scaramucci for advice, according to a report.
Steve Scully, political editor of C-SPAN and host of “Washington Journal,” sent Scaramucci what apparently was meant to be a private message, Fox News reported.
“@Scaramucci should I respond to trump,” Scully wrote.
“Ignore. He is having a hard enough time. Some more bad stuff about to go down,” responded “The Mooch,” who was famously fired after his rocky 11-day stint as White House communications director in 2018.
The appearance of a debate moderator communicating with Scaramucci, a fervent Trump critic at this point, did not bode well for a debate commission that tries to appear bi-partisan or non-partisan in debate preparation and moderator selection.
Just hours after the odd tweet appeared, Scully said his Twitter account was hacked:
C-SPAN said Friday the Twitter account for Political Editor Steve Scully, who was slated to host the second presidential debate, was hacked after a tweet was posted from Scully’s official account in which he appeared to ask for advice from Trump critic Anthony Scaramucci about how to respond to criticism the president had leveled at him.
“Steve Scully did not originate the tweet and believes his account has been hacked,” C-SPAN said in a statement. The Commission on Presidential Debates has stated publicly that the tweet was not sent by Scully himself and is investigating with the help of authorities. When additional information is available, we will release it.”
The debate Scully was supposed to moderate has now been canceled.
However, not everyone is buying the “hacked account” story considering Scully has used the explanation for odd tweets in the past on other occasions:
In May 2012, Scully appeared apologetic about tweets that were made about weight loss.
“I apologize for Saturday’s tweets regarding weight loss, etc. I still have my day job at C-SPAN…darn those hackers. Have a great Sunday,” Scully wrote.
In another tweet from March 2013, Scully apologizes for posts that were sent by his Twitter account, though it is unclear what the content was in those tweets written by alleged hackers.
“I apologize for some earlier TWEETS…account was hacked…those tweets did not come from me. Thanks all for alerting me. SS,” Scully wrote at the time.
The two tweets, which were gaining traction on Friday afternoon, have since been deleted.
There are reports that the latest “hacking” event, where Scully appeared to be communicating with ex-Trump spokesman Anthony Scaramucci, is being investigated by Twitter and the FBI.
Steve Scully notified us that his Twitter account was hacked. CPD reported the apparent hack to the FBI and Twitter, and we understand that the federal authorities and Twitter are looking into the issue.
— CPD (@debates) October 9, 2020
So, what is the truth in all of this? We may not know since it’s unlikely any results of an investigation into Scully’s twitter account will ever be released. However, what we do know is that with the Oct. 15 debate canceled, the entire ordeal has become a non-issue since Scully will not be moderating a 2020 debate.
As Fox News now reports, some analysts seem to think the debate commission is probably relieved that President Trump pulled out of the virtual debate, allowing the CPD to cancel it so they didn’t have to confront the issue of moderator bias related to Scully’s past dealings with former Vice President Joe Biden:
The decision by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to cancel the second debate between President Trump and Joe Biden scheduled for Thursday got embattled would-be moderator Steve Scully “out of the line of fire,” according to critics.
“The debate could not happen with Scully as moderator, regardless of any other factor,” Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson told Fox News Monday.
Scully’s credibility as an unbiased debate moderator was also questioned when it became known that he once served as an intern for then-Sen. Biden and served as a staffer for the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. During the 2016 campaign, Scully also shared a New York Times op-ed headlined, “No, Not Trump, Not Ever.”
If anything, these incidents have put into question why a somewhat-secret group of presidential debate organizers is needed or appropriate. Former Senator and former Republican Presidential Candidate Bob Dole tweeted that he was concerned over the makeup of the debate commission board:
The Commission on Presidential Debates is supposedly bipartisan w/ an equal number of Rs and Ds. I know all of the Republicans and most are friends of mine. I am concerned that none of them support @realDonaldTrump. A biased Debate Commission is unfair.
— Senator Bob Dole (@SenatorDole) October 9, 2020
The debate was to take place on Thursday, Oct. 15 but has since been scrapped. In place of the debate, both candidates will be appearing in primetime town hall events on different channels. Former Vice President Joe Biden will appear on ABC, while President Trump will hold a town hall event with NBC.
This situation begs the question as to why the CPD didn’t wait longer to announce changes to the debate format to observe the course of the President’s Covid-19 battle. As it stands now, the President has been cleared by his White House doctor to resume normal activities meaning he would have been cleared, most likely, to participate in the Oct. 15 debate as scheduled in-person.
If anything, this year has highlighted a deeper question of whether debate moderators are needed or whether the single point of contention can be replaced by a panel of moderators, or perhaps by a computer lobbing questions to the candidates. In keeping with practically every part of life in 2020, nothing has taken place as planned or expected.
As it stands now, the next Biden-Trump debate will take place on Thursday, Oct. 22 with Kristen Welker of NBC News as the moderator.