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Debate Organizers Say They Will Make Format Changes For Next Time

A broadcast of the first debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is played on TVs at The Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
A broadcast of the first debate between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is played on TVs at The Abbey in West Hollywood, Calif.

Updated at 4:16 p.m. ET

After a debate plagued by interruptions and cross-talk — mostly from President Trump — many politicos, voters and journalists asked whether more could have been done to stop the chaos. Some asked whether the debates should continue at all.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, the independent, nonpartisan group that has sponsored the debates since 1988, responded Wednesday, saying it is considering changes to the format before the next matchup:

The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors televised debates for the benefit of the American electorate. Last night's 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.  The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly.  The Commission is grateful to Chris Wallace for the professionalism and skill he brought to last night's debate and intends to ensure that additional tools to maintain order are in place for the remaining debates.

During a campaign stop Wednesday at a train station in Alliance, Ohio, Democratic nominee Joe Biden said he would continue to participate in the debates, telling reporters that he is looking forward to them.

"I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruption," Biden said.

The former vice president said it would make sense for the moderator to switch off Trump's microphone during Biden's turn and vice versa, providing each candidate with two minutes of uninterrupted speaking time.

For his part, Trump has criticized Tuesday night's moderator, Fox News' Chris Wallace, for bias. "Two on one was not surprising, but fun," the president tweeted.

Trump's campaign came out against format changes Wednesday.

"They're only doing this because their guy got pummeled last night," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh wrote in a statement. "President Trump was the dominant force and now Joe Biden is trying to work the refs. They shouldn't be moving the goal posts and changing the rules in the middle of the game."

The next debate, set for Oct. 15, will be hosted by C-SPAN anchor Steve Scully. Currently, that debate is set up as a town hall format, in which both candidates will answer questions from voters in the audience.

Facing voters may make it more difficult for the candidates to steam roll through questions and answers.

"Wallace needed, at the very least, a mute button," wrote Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan. "Maybe something stronger. A penalty box? A stun gun? Failing some radical reform in the debate format, there's no reason for the next two debates to take place as scheduled on Oct. 15 and 22."

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Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.