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Why does presidential debate commission only allow one kind of diversity in its moderators?



candycrowley.jpgHere's the thing about diversity in public life; once you have some of it, folks demand a lot more.

That's why I'm a little surprised to see the Commission on Presidential Debates offer a slate of moderators for the four presidential and vice presidential contests which ups the ante of gender diversity, while leaving racial diversity in the dust.

Gwen Ifill, who handled two previous vice presidential debates ably, was nowhere to be seen on the new list of moderators released today. But the current list, including Ifill's PBS colleague Jim Lehrer, CBS' Bob Schieffer, CNN's Candy Crowley and ABC's Martha Raddatz, lists Crowley as a presidential debate moderator -- the first time in 20 years a woman has handled that job.

montclair-teens-moderator1.jpgThe gender-balanced list of moderators seemed to answer pointed questions about the lack of female diversity supporters asked in recent weeks, best exemplified by a petition created by three New Jersey teenagers -- including the niece of a CBS News correspondent -- challenging the debate commission on its two-decade drought.

But in an election which will include the first black president attempting to win another term, there will be no non-white moderators handling either a vice presidential or presidential debate for the first time since 1996. (Ifill did VP debates in 2008 and 2004; CNN alum Bernard Shaw handled the VP debate in 2000, according to the debate commission's website.)

ifill.jpgIfill would have been a great choice for one of the slots; unlike Lehrer, she's been involved with covering this election full-time and will co-anchor PBS' convention and election coverage later this year.

But Lehrer, who has quietly retired from PBS' NewsHour, has moderated more presidential debates than any other journalist; it would have been tough to leave him off the list if he still wanted to be a moderator, and it would have been tough for the commission to have two moderators from PBS when so many others want the spotlight.

POLITICO reports that, even though Lehrer said in 2011 he wouldn't ever moderate another presidential debate, format changes implemented by the commission led him to say yes.

It's sad to note that there are so few journalists of color in key anchor positions, that there are few other names with the experience, profile, gravitas and record of impartial journalism needed.

NBC's Lester Holt? Ifill's colleague Ray Suarez on the NewsHour? CNN's Don Lemon, Christiane Amanpour or Soledad O'Brien? (NPR's Michele Norris, another great pick, is sidelined from political coverage because her husband is working on Obama's campaign.)

At a time when the biggest non-white voice in news media may be opinionators such as Al Sharpton and Geraldo Rivera, a set of debates where the candidates are more ethnically diverse than the moderators may say an awful lot about the failing struggle to diversify the journalism business.

Here's more details on the debates, from the Commission on Presidential Debates website:

First presidential debate: Jim Lehrer, Executive Editor of the PBS NewsHour
Wednesday, October 3, University of Denver, Denver, CO

Vice presidential debate: Martha Raddatz, Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, ABC News
Thursday, October 11, Centre College, Danville, KY

Second presidential debate (town meeting): Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent, CNN and Anchor, CNN's State of the Union
Tuesday, October 16, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

Third presidential debate:
Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News and Moderator, Face the Nation
Monday, October 22, Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL

[Last modified: Monday, August 13, 2012 12:35pm]


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