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Debate commission says it will make changes to format

NEW YORK (AP) — The presidential debate commission says it will soon adopt changes to its format to avoid a repeat of the disjointed first meeting between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

The commission said Wednesday that the debate “made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues.”

One possibility being discussed is to give the moderator the ability to cut off the microphone of one of the debate participants while his opponent is talking, according to a person familiar with the deliberations who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The next presidential debate is a town hall format scheduled for Oct. 15 in Miami.

Meanwhile, the Nielsen company said that 73.1 million people watched the debate on television, where it was shown on 16 networks. That’s more than any other television event since the Super Bowl, even if it fell short of the 84 million who watched the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. That was the most-watched presidential debate ever.

Moderator Chris Wallace struggled to gain control of Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland because of frequent interruptions, primarily by Trump. The candidates interrupted Wallace or their opponent 90 times in the 90-minute debate, 71 of them by Trump, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Wallace, of Fox News, pleaded for a more orderly
debate, at one point looking at Trump and saying, “the country would be
better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer
interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that.”

“Ask him, too,” Trump said.

“Well, frankly, you’ve been doing more interrupting than he has,” Wallace said.

on Wednesday called the debate “a national embarrassment.” But despite
some suggestions that the final two presidential encounters be canceled,
both campaigns said they expected their candidate to attend.

campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said the commission was
“only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night. President
Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the

ABC News’ Martha Raddatz, who moderated one of the three
Trump-Clinton debates in 2016, said Wallace was put in nearly an
impossible situation. Faced with the same behavior, she said she might
have called a full stop to the debate for a moment to recalibrate.

never had the option, technically, to cut off the microphone of a
candidate four years ago, she said. It also wasn’t in the rules that
were agreed to in advance by the candidates and commission.

say, ‘He’s not going to follow the rules so we aren’t, either’ — it’s an
unprecedented situation,” Raddatz said. “That was so out of control.”

was ablaze with criticism for Wallace early in the debate for losing
control of the proceedings. That was illustrated by MSNBC’s Joe
Scarborough, who tweeted, “What is Chris Wallace doing? He has no
control over the debate. He asks a question and let’s Trump continue
yelling. This is a disgrace.”

By the time he was on “Morning Joe” the next morning, Scarborough had cooled off. He called on the debate commission to act.

it was extraordinarily frustrating, I think all of us need to walk a
mile in his shoes before saying the morning after, ‘He could have done
this, he could have done that,’” Scarborough said.

Some of the
president’s supporters felt that Wallace was too hard on their
candidate. Trump himself suggested he was also debating Wallace, “but
that’s no surprise.”

Wallace even got some criticism from opinion
personalities on his own network. “Trump is debating the moderator and
Biden,” primetime host Laura Ingraham tweeted during the debate.

Another Fox colleague, Geraldo Rivera, expressed more sympathy.

“The guy signed up to moderate a debate and he ended up trying to referee a knife fight,” he said.

Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” was not immediately made available for comment by Fox.

is some skepticism about what the commission can do that is really
meaningful. “I’m not sure that there’s a format change that can solve
that problem,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican, of battleground state

Wallace is the only presidential debate moderator
this cycle with prior experience, after receiving praise for handling
the final Clinton-Trump debate in 2016. The other two moderators are
Steve Scully of C-SPAN and Kristen Welker of NBC News.

moderates the Miami debate, a town hall format where citizens get to ask
questions, which may make interruptions more difficult.

“Having prepared for these, the town hall is a completely different event in the debate Olympics,” tweeted David Plouffe, an adviser to former President Barack Obama. “If Trump brings the same nastiness to Florida, it will be doubly painful to watch but it will be doubly painful for him politically.”

Associated Press writers Bill Barrow, Laurie Kellman and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.