US Election 2016

US presidential debates: Chris Wallace and the other moderators rated

Anderson Cooper, Martha Raddatz, Lester Holt, Chris Wallace Image copyright reuters, AP, reuters
Image caption Anderson Cooper (L) and Martha Raddatz, Lester Holt and Chris Wallace hosted the debates

In a grudge match as bitter and volatile as Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton, the debate moderator also takes centre stage.

Can they maintain order, keep things civil and cajole candidates into giving meaningful answers amid the maelstrom of insults, interruptions and waffle?

Here's how the moderators at the three debates - all vastly experienced TV hosts - fared.

Chris Wallace, Fox News

Image copyright AFP/getty

Mr Wallace has been hailed as the real winner in the third and final debate.

The Fox News journalist was praised for an even-handed approach and not letting either candidate digress too wildly.

There was humour too - in one exchange he admonished Republican candidate Donald Trump: "I'm not a potted plant here. I do get to ask questions."

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Image copyright @GovHowardDean
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Media captionDonald Trump and Hillary Clinton repeatedly spoke over each other - and the moderator.

Mr Wallace asked tough questions about a new Supreme Court appointee and abortion - and he secured the debate's eventual headline when he pushed Mr Trump on his claim the election was being "rigged" against him.

"There is a tradition in this country, in fact one of the prides of this country, that is the peaceful transition of power and that no matter how hard fought a campaign is, at the end of the campaign the loser concedes to the winner and the country comes together, in part for the good of the country," he said.

"Are you prepared now to commit to that principle?"

Mr Trump refused. But the Republican, who had accused previous moderators of bias, reportedly congratulated Mr Wallace afterwards, telling him he had done a "great job".

Verdict: Pick of the bunch

Anderson Cooper, CNN, and Martha Raddatz, ABC

Image copyright Getty Images

This debate had a Town Hall format - where the audience got to ask questions - and two moderators to keep the candidates in check.

It took place shortly after Mr Trump was revealed to have made obscene comments about women in a 2005 video, and he was agitated and defensive throughout.

Mr Cooper and Ms Raddatz asked him directly if he had ever sexually assaulted a woman - but they also grilled Hillary Clinton about her use of a private email server while Secretary of State.

Image copyright @GovMikeHuckabee
Image copyright @ericbolling

The pair were aggressive in shutting down interruptions and "tightened the reins" when necessary, said Politico.

But Mr Trump hated it. He complained about the time he was given, criticised the questions and grumbled about the contest being "three-on-one".

His supporters also weighed in online, accusing them of getting in the way.

Verdict: A tight grip, but little flair

Lester Holt, NBC

Image copyright AP

Things were tricky for Mr Holt even before the first debate kicked off.

There was already a row simmering over how much fact-checking moderators should do when interviewing.

Mr Trump had also accused Mr Holt of being a Democrat, although his voting record later showed otherwise.

And because it was the first debate ,he had no idea how the candidates would react to each other.

Despite that, when it came to the crunch most observers felt he withdrew from of the fray.

Mr Trump in particular was repeatedly allowed to talk over Mrs Clinton, interrupting her more than 50 times according to one count.

Mr Holt was "almost invisible" said Fortune Magazine.

Of 5m tweets about the debate, 444,000 were about him, many far from complimentary.

Afterwards Mr Trump appeared to hesitate before shaking his hand and later tweeted that he was unhappy at the choice of questions.

Verdict: Thrown in at the deep end, but weak

Read more: Trump criticises Holt's 'unfair' questions