Eric, I take the point that you're making about the forum having been designed to reduce confrontation and mis-steps and just give people a chance to talk.
That being said, I did think that Jonathan Capehart, if not Melissa Etheridge (and obviously I know the response that caused the outcry was to her question), was being tougher with Richardson than with other candidates, from the get-go. I'm certainly not saying that Richardson didn't screw it up, and big time (I made that point in my original post, remember), but I am saying that I'm not convinced there wasn't some preference on the part of the individual questioners heading into the forum, which may have impacted on how they handled each candidate throughout the whole 15 minutes.
For example, I think Hillary Clinton got off incredibly lightly when she said that her reasons for not supporting gay marriage were "personal." I certainly wondered what she meant by that, and I certainly didn't get close to finding out. Much greater attempts seemed to be made to nail down Obama and Edwards about why they didn't support gay marriage than were made with her, and whether that was intentional, or just accidentally how it rolled on the night, I do think that there were differences in terms of how the candidates were treated.
Richardson bungled it pretty badly, and without being specifically pushed to a point where he was bound to say something stupid. But I did get the impression that Hillary could have said "I don't support gay marriage because men making out kinda freaks me out," and the panel would very possibly have been like, "OK, let's move on."
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