Let's take a look.
It began early. After Romney's opening 2 minutes, Lehrer addressed Obama:
LEHRER: Mr. President, please respond directly to what the governor just said about trickle-down -- his trick-down approach, as he said yours is.Wait, what? "Mr. President, here's a line of attack you can use, please use it."
Then as the first segment came to a close was this exchange:
ROMNEY: Jim, the president began this segment, so I think I get the last word.
LEHRER: Well, you're going to get the first word in the next segment.
Again, what? "Mr. Obama started this thing, so I think I should get the last word." "No, we're going to let him have the last word, because you get the first in the next segment." Huh? That would be like saying a baseball team doesn't get their last at-bat in the last home game of a series because they'll get the first at-bat in their next (away) game. What does the next segment have to do with this one?
Later, talking about taxes and the deficit, we get this exchange:
LEHRER: Governor, what about Simpson-Bowles? Do you support Simpson-Bowles?
ROMNEY: Simpson-Bowles, the president should have grabbed that.
LEHRER: No, I mean, do you support Simpson-Bowles?
Does that sound like a "moderator" or a debate opponent hoping to get in a "gotcha" attack? Simpson-Bowles was not Romney's plan. He was not part of that panel. He had no say on it at all. Here's the thing, Lehrer was trying to ask, "Mr. Romney, when did you stop beating your wife?" If Romney simply says, "No" then Lehrer or the SCOAMT can jump all over the fact that Simpson-Bowles was "bipartisan." If he says, "Yes" they can try to drive a wedge between Romney and his Republican Base. If he tries to provide an accurate, clear answer, he's accused of (as here) evading the question or prevaricating.
Then, still talking about taxes and the deficit:
LEHRER: But -- but Mr. President, you're saying in order to -- to get the job done, it's got to be balanced. You've got to have...
Again, is that a moderator? It doesn't sound like a moderator to me, it sounds like someone who has taken sides. "Here, Mr. President, is your talking point..."
Then, on to health care:
LEHRER: You want it repealed. You want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Why?
Now this one is fairly subtle, and would be forgivable if he hadn't set himself in a position antagonistic to Mr. Romney. As it is, however, note the gratuitous (or, at least, almost gratuitous) use of the name "Affordable Care Act." Why "gratuitous?" Well, for one thing, he'd already called it ObamaCare previously. Indeed, Mr. Obama had embraced the term "ObamaCare" earlier in the debate saying "I like it," when referring to the term. The point was to get that word "Affordable" out there. "Mr. Romney, you want to repeal affordable health care," is the idea here.
Here's one, still talking about health care, where the SCOAMT finishes a statement, notice how Lehrer wants to let Mr. Obama get the last word in:
No. The reason is, is because, when we reform Wall Street, when we tackle the problem of pre-existing conditions, then, you know, these are tough problems and we've got to make choices. And the choices we've made have been ones that ultimately are benefiting middle-class families all across the country.
LEHRER: We're going to move to...
ROMNEY: No. I -- I have to respond to that.
LEHRER: No, but...
Then they turn to the roll of the Federal Government. After opening statements, Lehrer turns the discussion to education:
LEHRER: All right. Let's go through some specifics in terms of what -- how each of you views the role of government. How do -- education. Does the federal government have a responsibility to improve the quality of public education in America?
Quick aside here- notice that it's not "the roll of the Federal Government" to Lehrer- there is no difference to him between Federal, State, and Local government. Other than that, which is positively benign compared to the rest, that's a fairly balanced question. Romney answers- basically saying "Way reduced from where it is today" and Lehrer responds:
LEHRER: How do you see the federal government's responsibility to, as I say, to improve the quality of public education in this country?
Now we've gone from "Is there a responsibility" to "there is a responsibility, because I'm the moderator and I say so." Again, this is not the behavior of a neutral "moderator" but an opponent.
Now, the spin today from many in the media is that Jim Lehrer is to blame for Mr. Obama's poor performance. That just doesn't hold up to the facts. First, Mr. Obama spoke for a full 4 minutes longer than Mr. Romney, so you can't say Lehrer was preferential to Mr. Romney there. And, as shown here, the nature of the questions and his support of the President's positions were designed to assist the President. Mr. Lehrer was not an objective moderator, he was a partisan shill for the President.
At Mitt Romney still beat both of them.
Update: Via JWF, the Democrats have an add where they try to say Romney "just kept going and going" suggesting that Romney won because he was mean to Jim Lehrer. I don't think that's going to fly, given that Jim Lehrer was actively on Obama's Side- as has been demonstrated.