The announcement of the moderators for both the presidential and vice presidential debates this October has caused a lot of head scratching and even gnashing of teeth. For the 12th time, Jim Lehrer will moderate a presidential debate. Bob Schieffer will preside over his third. And, CNN’s Candy Crowley will ask the questions during a third town-hall style debate between Obama and Romney. Martha Raddatz of ABC has been appointed to shepard us all through the single vice-presidential debate.
These choices indicate that not much has changed over the last 30 years in America’s television newsrooms and in the corporate suites which really call the shots in and for those newsrooms. Sure, all four of these people are probably nice, certainly experienced, competent and intelligent. But they are also boring as hell, old as dirt, and should be coaching younger people how to do what they all have done at one level or another since about the time television was invented.
The one “bold” move by the corporate suits in this matter was to select Crowley as the first woman moderator in 20 years. Whoopee! Why is selecting anybody other than a white male for some desired position always considered “bold” in America?
Or, did any of the folks on the “Presidential Debate Commission,” who chose these four, happen to notice that the president of the United States is a black man? Do you think it might have made even a little sense to include a black person to ask a question or two? Did that thought ever cross their minds?
The “gender thing” obviously did cross their minds. Tapping two white women (one each for a presidential and vice presidential debate) hardly closes the "gender gap." Interestingly, the last (and only) female to moderate a presidential debate was Carol Simpson, also of ABC, and also black – 20 years ago. When asked for a reaction to this year's crew of moderators, Simpson wryly said that although it was important that women be included, "a little color" would also have been nice.
The National Association of Black Journalists has declared that the lack of black moderators was “unacceptable.”
“We cannot make everybody happy. That’s just a fact of life,” said Mike McCurry, a former spokesman for President Bill Clinton who is on the debate commission. “I have talked to at least one network news division that was in an unhappy place.”
The titular head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, of course, denounced the choice of Crowley as “a far, far left-wing Democrat momma,” and Schieffer as an equally “far, far left-wing Democrat and dinosaur.” And, in an effort to be as inclusive as possible, Rush cited both Raddatz and Lehrer as “far, far left” as well.
But it was the scene at PBS’s "News Hour," Lehrer’s perch for more than 35 years, that seemed to ruffle most feathers. Lehrer finally retired just last year. But the guys on the Commission act like they cannot do a debate without him, and so have called him out of retirement to moderate a 12th presidential debate. Talk about an "ole boy's club." Absolutely amazing. This is an example of real affirmative action...the kind that's been in place since the very first day of this nation's founding and right on up to this morning.
Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff have directed the "News Hour's" political programming for many years. Reportedly, they both were "stunned" at the choices for the upcoming debates -- Ifill apparently moreso than Woodruff. Ifill went public with her discontent.
Although Lehrer is obviously well respected in the offices of the show which bears his name, it has been assumed in recent years that younger up-and-coming stars like Ifill would begin to get some of these more prized assignments. Ifill was especially “livid,” according to several people present, when the list of names came out and hers was not on it. She herself has, in fact, confirmed that, yes, “I was indeed disappointed.”
Beyond the unacceptability of the folks chosen, the National Association of Black Journalists has also said that at some point the Commission on Presidential Debates must “stop treating black reporters as if they were unqualified, invisible or both.” The group also made the point that not only is the president black, but as much as one-quarter of the electorate this year will be “non-white.” Yet, the people who run these things, primarily middle-aged to elderly white males, are stuck in a time warp, a backwards-facing time warp, and must somehow be shaken out of it and dragged, kicking and screaming, if necessary, into the 21st century.
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