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The next question is from Section 8

October 8, 2008 |  1:49 pm

John McCain, Barack Obama, Tom Brokaw, debate, campaign 2008, Nashville If Tuesday's presidential debate had been more compelling, I might not have noticed two peculiarities about the event: the bizarre behavior of moderator Tom Brokaw and the inertness of the audience of "real people" from Nashville.

Brokaw already has been scolded for a schoolmarmish insistence on holding Barack Obama and John McCain to the arcane rules of the format, lest they actually engage each other in a debate. But the oddest aspect of his moderation was an insistence on introducing the questioners at the "town hall" by referring to the section of the hall in which they were seating as if it were a town.

At the beginning of the debate Brokaw said that "we're going to have our first question from over here in Section A from Allen Shaffer." Later he introduced "Oliver Clark, who is over here in section F." Later still: "The next question does come from the hall for Sen. McCain. It comes from Section C over here, and it's from Ingrid Jackson." And so on. So often did Brokaw mention sections that he sounded like a Broadway usher.

Odd as it was, Brokaw's obsession with where people were sitting was out-weirded by the audience. Regardless of the section they occupied, they were to a person eerily immobile and expressionless, so much so that I was surprised when a seemingly stiffened teenager actually blinked his eyes. The pod people from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" were more animated than this group. Maybe the drinking water at the debate was spiked with curare. Or the debate staffer who wrangled the audience "undecided" with "undead."

Photo: AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool

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