Do they have the ability to do a mental calculation?” said the moderator.
He has just finished a seminar on the phenomenon by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, who argued that in order to know the intentions of another person, you have to know his or her body language and the way he or she moves. In other words, you have to know when someone is lying or when he or she is being honest. Such methods of reading minds have been used successfully by many of the world’s biggest dictators.
The moderator was keen to stress that the audience could not know whether his or her questions were in fact questions from the audience and not “ordinary voters”.
“This audience is very different from those who went to the polls to elect leaders,” he said.
“I have asked them questions,” he added, “about which I believe the answers are very important … we want to make sure they take into account the will of the country”.
Mere questions are not acceptable, he said, as they do not allow the moderators to tell whether they came from the real people who are entitled to participate in the discussion and who are not.
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Watch: BBC Newsnight: What are we really saying to our own voters?
A moderator’s role is to help “provide a place for discussion without any bias in the distribution of information”, but is not allowed to say something “which would distort the discussion”.
Mr Obama’s team tried to keep things interesting, with three questions from the audience.
One questioner referred to the government’s plan to take out more than $700bn (£420bn) in “Obamacare” and suggested that was the real reason for Mr Obama’s decision.
The moderator, George Stephanopoulos, made clear that the questions would be off-topic in the hope that the audience would not hear about the issue.
But the questions did not help much. Most viewers, according to online results, had not heard any of the questions that had been asked.
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By BBC political reporter Tim Ahman
In today’s press conference, Obama appeared to be taking the bait again, but instead of saying he is a socialist, he took the opportunity to accuse Mitt Romney of lying about him.
On balance this was a fairly ineffective tactic. To start with, he has the advantage here of a live audience, which is the only