President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney cut off moderator Jim Lehrer 30 times during Wednesday night's presidential debate in Denver, a newly released study shows.
The candidates interrupted the veteran PBS newsman three times as often as Obama and Sen. John McCain did during the first presidential debate in 2008, when they interjected just 10 times, according to the study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University.
Lehrer was widely ridiculed — even by fellow news anchors like NBC's David Gregory and Fox's Chris Wallace — for seemingly losing control over the candidates, who frequently disregarded time limits.
However, the study concluded that Lehrer's questions were just as — if not more — tough as in 2008.
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"Lehrer was just as aggressive in his questions as he was four years ago," Dr. S. Robert Lichter, the center's president, said in a statement. "But the candidates were less willing [to] let him ask them."
Neither candidates was more at fault than the other, "most often the questions dissolved into crosstalk, with both candidates talking over the moderator," the study said.
The reseachers said they studied Lehrer's questions from both 2008 and 2012, and looked for "challenge questions" that went beyond asking for information and sparked debate by pushing the candidates to justify or explain their statements.
Lehrer defended his performance in a statement Thursday night, saying he hoped to "stay out of the way" of the discourse between the two candidates.
"Part of my moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow and I had no problems with doing so," he said in the statement. "My only real personal frustration was discovering that 90 minutes was not enough time in that more open format to cover every issue that deserved attention."