Time Magazine’s Mark Halperin obtained a copy of the secret agreement between the Obama and Romney campaigns governing their participation in the 2012 presidential debates, and the conditions placed on audience participation in tonight’s “town-hall” style event are positively draconian:
“Questioners shall not makes statements, speeches, or comments. They must ask their question as originally submitted and selected by the moderator and make no other comments.
“The moderator will not ask follow up questions or make comments either on the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidate…”
“The audience members shall not ask follow-up questions or otherwise participate in the extended discussion, and the audience member’s microphone shall be turned off after he or she finishes asking the questions.
“If any audience member poses a question or makes a statement that is in any material way different than the question that the audience member earlier submitted to the moderator for review, the moderator will cut-off the questioner and advise the audience that such non-reviewed questions are not permitted.
“Moreover, the Commission [on Presidential Debates] shall take appropriate steps to cut-off the microphone of any such audience member who attempts to pose any question or statement different than that previously posed to the moderator for review. The moderator will inform the audience of this provision prior to the debate.”
These are provisions worthy of North Korea. But we don’t live in North Korea. There is nothing to prevent one of the town hall audience members, or the debate moderator Candy Crowley, from ignoring them. As far as I know, they haven’t signed this contract or any other, and the First Amendment should still apply.