Coronavirus? Yes, but First: Soda Ban. CBS Criticized After a Chaotic Debate.

Eighty-three minutes had elapsed in Tuesday night’s Democratic debate before the CBS News moderators got around to asking the candidates about coronavirus.

Among the topics covered before then: a municipal ban on big sodas, the future of the filibuster, and the Naked Cowboy who performs for tourists in Times Square, a reference that may have flown over the heads of viewers west of the Hudson River.

When Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor, finally broached the issue of the virus pandemic during an unrelated answer, one of the moderators, the anchor Gayle King, cut him off. “We’ll talk about that in the next segment,” she told Mr. Bloomberg, before pivoting to a question about whether his mayoral policies had improved New Yorkers’ life expectancies.

It was just one puzzling moment in a disjointed night of television. Over two hours, the CBS moderating team — which featured Ms. King, the anchor Norah O’Donnell, and three other network journalists — struggled to keep control, calling for order as jawboning candidates talked over their questioners and each other.

The confusion began early and extended to the end, when Ms. O’Donnell mistimed a cue and prematurely declared the evening over.

“That concludes our debate —” Ms. O’Donnell told viewers confidently, before stopping herself. A brief silence ensued before her fellow moderator jumped in. “No, no, we have time for one more break, Norah, one more break,” Ms. King said, offering viewers an apologetic, this-stuff-happens grin. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

Whether viewers were enjoying themselves was an open question. The Drudge Report issued a tough post-debate verdict: “CBS MESSY.”

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