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By Breaking the Rules, Did Candy Crowley Do the Right Thing?

CNN’s Candy Crowley is coming under fire for her “live fact-check” of GOP candidate Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate. Did she go too far?

That’s the question we asked Tracie Powell of the Poynter Institute’s Sense-making Project.

Powell pointed out that the audience applauded when Crowley corrected Romney on Libya.

“I think there’s an appetite for fact-checking and truth-telling,” she said. “They wanted an independent arbiter to say exactly what happened, and Candy Crowley was that independent voice who helped set the record straight.”

Romney was accusing President Obama of not calling the slayings of four Americans in Libya a terrorist attack.

“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,” Romney said.

Obama said, “Get the transcript.”

Crowley interjected, “It — he did in fact, sir. He did call it an act of terror.”

In doing this, Powell says Crowley broke the town hall rules. Those rules clearly stated Crowley was not supposed to ask questions or comment on answers.

But she says Crowley did the right thing.

“Crowley said, ‘Oh no, the campaigns may have agreed to that, but I have not,’” Powell said.

She says the problem is, the debates set-up is heavily influenced by both campaigns.

“I think the big question right now is whether the formats of these debates, are they designed to serve the political campaigns or the voters,” Powell said.

There’s also some interesting history here.

Only two women have moderated a presidential debate: Crowley, and ABC News’ Carole Simpson. And both of them were asked to moderate a town hall debate.

That means neither woman was allowed to do what their male colleagues can – ask the candidates direct questions.

But that didn’t stop Simpson. She helped clarify a question from a young black woman, who asked Bush how the national debt affected him.

“I think she means more the recession,” Simpson said, with the woman nodding, “the economic problems today the country faces.”

Powell says Bush struggled to respond to that audience member, and then candidate Bill Clinton walked out to her.

“And that’s when he had that ‘I feel your pain’ moment,” Powell said.

Scott Finn is a former news director at WUSF Public Media, which provides in-depth reporting for Tampa Bay and all of Florida.
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