Why presidential debate moderators should reflect US diversity

OPINION - In a country currently undergoing dramatic demographic shifts, it’s time for the presidential debates to reflect the diversity of the viewing and voting public...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

If you thought the Commission of Presidential Debates would consider the fact that the actual president is black when selecting moderators for the 2012 election cycle, you would be wrong. We’re in another presidential cycle, and we’ll have yet another round of presidential debates with all white moderators. The time for old white moderators should be long gone.

The list of 2012 debate moderators released Monday includes PBS’ Jim Lehrer, CNN’s Candy Crowley, and CBS’ Bob Schieffer for the three presidential debatesm and ABC’s Martha Raddatz for the vice presidential debate. PBS’ Jim Lehrer has already moderated 11 debates in the past and has said he no longer wants the job, but the Debate Commission still selected him to moderate a presidential debate this year. At least the Debate Commission didn’t select Lehrer to moderate all of the debates like they did in 1996.

After a number of petitions for the inclusion of a female moderator, there is some cause for celebration at the selection of CNN’s Candy Crowley. Crowley is the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate. While it’s a step in the right direction for the Debate Commission to notice that America is made up of people other than old white men, the lack of any people of color selected as moderators is glaring.

Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. co-chairman on the Debate Commission, told Politico, “We picked the people we thought were the best.  This is a two-year process, and all the way through we looked at new ideas, new people. But historically, we have stayed with television journalists, because the moderators have to be experienced.”

Experience is absolutely necessary, but there are qualified journalists of color who could have been selected.  PBS’ Gwen Ifill ably moderated the vice presidential debates in both in 2004 and 2008.  It would make perfect sense to promote Ifill to moderate one of the presidential debates this time around, but apparently the Debate Commission felt differently. There were reports that CNN’s Soledad O’Brien was at least under consideration, but was not selected in the end. They could have also considered hosts from Univision, including Jorge Ramos, who participated in the most recent GOP primary as a moderator of a candidate forum which included one-on-one sit downs.

There is no excuse for this oversight. Women are half of the country and should not have to petition the Debate Commission to be included. Particularly since many of the most hot button political issues facing the country directly impact women the most.

Only two people of color have ever moderated a presidential debate: Bernard Shaw in 1988 and Carol Simpson in 1992. In a country currently undergoing dramatic demographic shifts, it’s time for the presidential debates to reflect the diversity of the viewing and voting public.

With the election of President Barack Obama, the Debate Commission should realize that America has entered a new era.  The presidential debates should certainly at least attempt to reflect the population the candidates are running to represent.  That also includes the use of younger debate moderators. The 2012 group of debate moderators average nearly 70 years old.

America is changing rapidly, and it’s time for the Debate Commission to catch up and include some color.

Follow Zerlina Maxwell on Twitter at @zerlinamaxwell