The standing of the media may be what is most at stake in tonight’s debate, as moderator CNN’s Candy Crowley comes under intense scrutiny after perceived “fails” by Jim Lehrer and Martha Raddatz in the two past debates.

Both the Romney and Obama campaigns have jointly agreed that questions should only come from the audience, but in an interview with Wolf Blitzer last night, Crowley said that she intended to ask follow-up questions:

It’s a town hall meeting.  There will be questioners to the right and left of me and in front of the candidates.  And they will have the questions.  And as was the case in the Charlie Gibson town hall meeting and the Tom Brokaw town hall meeting in presidential campaigns past, there is a time after that for follow-up and for furthering the discussion.

There is little doubt that the media have been covering for Obama for the past four years. But Powerline Blog predicts that if Obama has another lackluster performance, his willing accomplices, the media, *might* begin to turn on him. They compare this election with the way the media turned on Jimmy Carter in 1980:

Obama is repeating one of the same mistakes as the Carter campaign: Carter and Obama both thought the road to re-election was attacking their Republican opponent and making him an unacceptable alternative.  Neither laid out a vision of what a second term might look like; neither had a new positive agenda.  The media is happy to play along—up to a point.  Today’s media is several steps further to the left than the media in 1980, but they still like a winning narrative and hate a loser, and so they might turn in small ways against Obama.

A media disassociating itself from Obama may be a little too optimistic for some. Obama will be feeling the pressure to show he’s awake at this one, which Byron York refers to as his “do-over,” and he will need all the help he can get from the media. In particular, how he chooses to handle Benghazi (will he go for a scripted presidential moment by taking responsibility?) could be a make-or-break moment.

Others are sure the media has been put into pre-debate spin control. Take, for example, Huffington Post contributor Ron Ashkenas’s well-timed article in the Harvard Business Review explaining how someone who’s a great debater might actually be a *horrible* leader. And blogger Todd Stump predicts the media narrative has already been sealed, and that it will be “awkward”:

Look for the narrative tonight to be either that a) Romney was “awkward” and “uncomfortable” in the town hall format, or that he was “less awkward” and “more comfortable” than expected.  I suspect that reporters already have two articles teed up and are ready to press Send.

The question to Crowley and to the media becomes, what is more important: to continue to shill for Obama, and perhaps go down with the ship, or to reassert a dash of J-school objectivity? We may find out tonight.

H/T Backyard Conservative