In Moderating The Presidential Debates, Only One Kind of Diversity at a Time

In the midst of the happy news that women will moderate two of the four presidential and vice presidential debates — CNN’s Candy Crowley will be the first person to moderate a presidential debate since 1992, and ABC’s Martha Raddatz will moderate the vice-presidential debate — Eric Deggans makes a critically important point: advances for women appear to have traded off with advances for people of color this time around. This is the first year since 1996 that no person of color will interrogate either the presidential or vice presidential candidates. He writes:

Ifill 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.

Still, 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 he husband is working on Obama’s campaign.)

I agree with Eric that part of this is a pipeline problem — Anderson Cooper’s diversion into daytime television also doesn’t help the cause of getting a gay moderator either. But I also think that part of this is about preserving the right of white guys to interrogate other white guys. President Obama’s presence on the stage is meant to represent African-American interests, never mind the interests of other minority groups. Women get their crack at him and the other men who will take the podium. If, in four years, we’re back to a bunch of white guys, I imagine moderators of color will get a chance again. But as long as we have as few presidential debates as we have, there remain few opportunities to question the candidates, and scant time to get in all the questions, from all the quarters of America, that they should be prepared to answer.