The 2012 presidential debates are rapidly approaching. Millions of people will tune in to watch candidates answer difficult questions about foreign and domestic policy. However, as discerning viewers, we must ask: who exactly asking the questions?
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour, Candy Crowley of CNN, and Bob Schieffer of CBS News have been chosen to moderate the presidential debates, and Martha Raddatz of ABC News will host the vice presidential debate. These four are perfectly capable journalists and certainly they will do an adequate job in questioning Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Now we must consider whether they are truly representative of the diverse American audience that will be tuning in to watch these four debates.
Many commenters are flooding the internet with support for the two women who have been chosen to moderate the presidential and vice presidential debates. This is certainly a positive step considering that the last woman to hold this position was ABC’s Carole Simpson, back in 1992. Yes, it has been 20 years since any woman moderated a presidential debate. Incidentally, the return of a female moderator to the presidential debates also marks the first time since 1996 that there has not been a person of color moderating at least one debate. It seems that incorporating diversity on one level necessitates sacrificing it somewhere else. The CPD has complete control over this decision and apparently they have not made diversity a priority. Luckily, the American public thought that 20 years was much too long to wait. Emma Axelrod, Elena Tsembris, and Sammi Siegel of New Jersey started an online petition that garnered over 180,000 signatures calling for a female debate moderator. Their petition accomplished its ultimate goal, but why is attracting a female debate moderator such an issue?
One can argue that there is simply a lack of diversity in qualified news journalists. The dearth of moderators of color or females seems to suggest that there is a dearth of qualified individuals that belong to any minority group. Studies seem to support the hypothesis that the overwhelming majority of TV journalists are white and male. Is it even worth the trouble to find new journalists to moderate debates when they are clearly lacking within the industry as a whole?
Undoubtedly the effort is well worth it. Seeing new faces moderating debates is exciting and aspirational for viewers. They can move away from the recognized journalists such as Lehrer, and embrace increasing diversity. Incidentally, Lehrer (who has moderated 11 presidential debates, more than any other journalist in history) has stated that he is no longer interested in the job. The CPD should seriously look into broadening its pool of potential moderators to include new journalists that more closely resemble the audience watching at home.