Moderator Bob Schieffer uses light hand

NEW YORK — Bob Schieffer took a light hand Monday as moderator of the final presidential debate, ending with advice from his mother: “Go vote. It makes you feel big and strong.”

Schieffer generally kept his questions to President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney direct, touching on the Middle East, China, the war in Afghanistan and the threat of a nuclear Iran in a debate scheduled to focus on international issues.

At one point he told the two men, “Let me get back to foreign policy” when the subject veered into a squabble on education reform, cutting Romney off as he tried to prolong the topic.

It was the third presidential debate, with PBS’ Jim Lehrer and CNN’s Candy Crowley moderating the first two. ABC’s Martha Raddatz was in control of the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan. With social media allowing millions of viewers an instant opportunity to be critics, the role of moderator was heavily scrutinized.

Schieffer, the “Face the Nation” host who was moderating his third presidential debate, gave the two men wide latitude to carry the conversation, even when they tried to talk over one another.

How that played out in the public depended on the taste of the viewer, as seen by two messages that popped up back-to-back on Twitter: “Little known fact. Moderator Bob Schieffer left the room 18 minutes ago,” one wag wrote.

But it was followed quickly by another person who thought Schieffer “did a pretty good job of asking mostly decent questions and then getting out of the way. Debate’s not about him.”

Schieffer’s competitor, NBC’s “Meet the Press” host David Gregory, tweeted a “tip of the cap” to Schieffer. “Very well done,” he said.

Schieffer asked the two men, “What is America’s role in the world?” and asked Romney what he felt about the drone strikes that have been the hallmark of Obama’s fight against terrorists. He asked whether each candidate would consider an attack on Israel to be an attack on the United States.

When Schieffer asked what each candidate would do if he got a phone call saying Israel was on its way to attack Iran, Romney batted it down as too hypothetical, and Obama didn’t address it. Similarly, neither man bit on another hypothetical question of what he would do if Afghanistan forces proved unable to handle the country’s security at the time the United States was looking to leave in 2014.

Schieffer segued from another Romney talk about education into the debate’s wrap-up statements with a line that quickly drew social media attention: “I think we all love teachers.”

Schieffer did have one gaffe, referring to the former al-Qaida head as “Obama’s bin Laden.”

In a sign of his evenhandedness, Schieffer escaped widespread social media criticism suggesting he was leaning any way politically. Earlier Monday, the conservative Media Research Center warned it would be watching him closely, noting it had documented several times when Schieffer supposedly leaned left.

But after the debate, MRC founder Brent Bozell said: “Schieffer managed to moderate this debate without revealing his own positions. Well done.”

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