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Presidential debates: First female moderator in 20 years announced

For the first time in 20 years, a woman will moderate a presidential debate.

It was confirmed Monday that CNN’s Candy Crowley will moderate the second of three presidential debates this fall. A woman, Martha Raddatz of ABC, will also moderate the vice-presidential debate.

Candy Crowley
(Click on the photo to learn more)

The first and last time a woman moderated a presidential debate was former ABC News anchor Carole Simpson in 1992. A woman has hosted vice-presidential debates in that time — PBS’s Gwen Ifill in 2004 and 2008.

The Commission on Presidential Debates fell under scrutiny for this lack of female moderators when three teens, Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis, campaigned to end the 20 year drought via Change.org petitions (see here and here) that collectively garnered more than 180,000 signatures. They had tried to deliver their petition to the CPD, but had been turned away. However, their effort gained support from a number of high profile politicians, such as U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Simpson herself also spoke out on the issue in an op-ed for the Boston Globe.

Following the release of the names of this year’s moderators, the girls announced victory on their main petition’s website.

“Through this campaign, millions of Americans learned that two decades passed without a woman moderating a U.S. presidential debate,” Axelrod said in the statement. “We are so proud to have helped educate Americans on this issue, and are extremely happy that women and girls watching the debates this year will see a potential role model up on the stage moderating.”

The announcement definitely demonstrated a step in the right direction.Several write-ups and Twitter comments on the moderator selections were quick to note gender parity with two women among this year’s four moderators. In addition to Crowley and Raddatz, Jim Lehrer of PBS News Hour (who has been a frequent moderator) and Bob Schieffer of CBS News will each moderate a presidential debate.

While this would seem to be an even split, it may not be actual parity. As The Caucus blog noted, “the announcement still fell short of some expectations.” According to the debate format descriptions, both Lehrer and Schieffer will moderate the two traditional debates at the highest level. In these debates, the moderator selects the topics and questions. In contrast, Crowley will host the only town-hall style debate in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates and the moderator will “facilitate discussion.” And, as previously noted, Raddatz is hosting the vice-presidential debate. In other words, the two debates between the highest level candidates where the moderator has the most influence and say will still be moderated by men.

And while gender diversity may be accounted for in this year’s line up, Eric Deggans has noted that the debates will have no non-white moderators for the first time since 1996.

Read more about the moderator announcement in the write-ups below:

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About Jasmine Linabary

Jasmine Linabary is a PhD student with an interest in media, technology, and feminist theory. Her background is in newspaper journalism.

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