Moderators' modus operandi : a rhetorical, qualitative analysis of the 2016 presidential debate moderators
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI--COLUMBIA AT REQUEST OF AUTHOR.] While there is much academic research on and analysis of presidential debates, most of the existing literature tends to focus on the candidates participating in the debate and not as much on the journalist moderators who guide the debates. This study examines the four journalists who were at the center of the 2016 presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton -- Lester Holt, Anderson Cooper, Martha Raddatz and Chris Wallace -- to determine what rhetorical strategies they implemented during their time on stage as well as how the digital news media analyzed their performances. Through coding 93 questions asked over the course of the three debates, this study identified how the four moderators used statements from the candidates and those in their political orbit to set up pointed questions; engaged in direct dialogues with candidates to follow up and press for more concrete answers and to fact-check false claims in real time; and addressed both the candidates and the audience to maintain control of the debate. Thirty digital media articles published the night of or the day after each debate were examined as well, examining what aspects of their performances led to the dominant narratives about Holt's passivity; Raddatz and Cooper's assertiveness; and Wallace's firmness and focus on policy. The examination also revealed how different publications contradicted one another in identifying positive and negative elements of the moderators' performances.
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