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Our View: Need presidential debate moderator like Denver anchor Kyle Clark

Televised political debates can go in any number of directions. Sometimes they’re wacky or even out of this world. For former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, it was the lone question about UFOs during the first Republican presidential primary debate in August 2023.

“I get the UFO question?” Christie said, visibly disappointed and rankled.

Christie then insinuated moderator Martha MacCallum asked him this because they are both from New Jersey. “We’re different but we’re not that different,” he said.

We’re hoping that forum wasn’t an indicator for what’s to come in the presidential debate on June 27. We’re counting on the moderators, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash, to fully engage Joe Biden and Donald Trump on behalf of the electorate. Meaning, not allowing them to dodge answers, drill down repeatedly on talking points, float falsehoods or skip over follow-up questions.

Mic muting will be a welcome addition. Also, our own columnist Jim Cross offered his wife’s blender that she uses to make smoothies to drown out candidates who won’t stop talking.

“No one can be heard over that racket,” he said.

Seriously, though, we want a debate that is revealing. Mostly, we know what to expect from Biden and Trump, but require a representation of what each man offers at this moment in time. Who he is at his core. Especially for voters who remain on the fence, and need a better sense of temperaments, nuances and smarts.

Tapper and Bash could take pointers from Denver KUSA anchor Kyle Clark, who recently moderated a debate among candidates, including Rep. Lauren Boebert, for the 4th Congressional District.

Clark delivered. Expertly.

He even caught the attention of University of Tennessee journalism professor Stuart Brotman, who noticed the mechanics of how Clark engaged in “meaningful colloquy.”

Brotman was so moved, he probably stood up, yelled at his TV, then wrote a guest column for The Poynter Institute, a media think tank that elevates the relevance, ethical practice and value of journalism. (We can only confirm the guest column part.)

The exchange that stayed with Brotman was Clark bringing up the “Beetlejuice” incident, when Boebert was caught on camera vaping, taking photos and engaging in lewd behavior.

Knowing this remained on the minds of voters, Clark asked her about it. Boebert said she’s owned up to it.

OK, readers, time out. Please, stop and note, this is a talking point. Here, usually, a moderator would move on to the next linear question on the list. But Clark continued.

“Did you apologize for the behavior that went on with you and your date?” he asked, resisting Boebert’s attempts to interrupt him.

“Or – pardon me – or did you apologize for lying to voters about what you did that night and the disrespect you showed to service workers that night? What specifically were you apologizing for?”

Instead of answering, Boebert wanted to talk about her legislative record.

Clark let this go. Good strategy: After pressing hard, he then backed off, letting her share something else.

But after she claimed credit for bringing earmarks to the 3rd Congressional District for local projects, Clark pointed out she had voted against that legislation.

His reporting chops, made clear with back-and-forth examinations, made for a memorable debate. He asked tough questions of each candidate and those encounters mattered.

Clark moderated as a journalist, not a TV host.

That’s what we want in a debate. A moderator with skills and backbone. Someone with the confidence to provide guardrails, if necessary.

Someone like Clark.