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Monday, August 13, 2012

Female Moderators Chosen for Debates


The moderating duties for the four presidential and vice presidential debates this year will be evenly split between male and female journalists for the first time.

Jim Lehrer of PBS, Bob Schieffer of CBS, Candy Crowley of CNN, and Martha Raddatz of ABC will be the moderators, the Commission on Presidential Debates said Monday morning. The first debate will take place on Oct. 3 in Denver.

The announcement followed a period of public scrutiny around the fact that only one woman has moderated a presidential debate in the quarter-century that the commission has been holding them. Three 16-year-olds from New Jersey posted an online petition, “It's Time for a Female Moderator,” earlier this year and gained more than 100,000 supporters. When they tried to deliver the petition to the commission's office in Washington
earlier this month, no one was available to meet with them.

On Monday, the commission indicated that Ms. Crowley would become the first woman to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson did
so in 1992. But the announcement still fell short of some expectations. The Oct. 16 debate to be led by Ms. Crowley, the host of the Sunday morning public affairs program “State of the Union” on CNN, will have a town meeting format with citizens asking the questions, not a traditional debate format with a moderator asking the questions.

Ms. Raddatz, the senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC, will moderate the vice presidential debate, with a traditional format, on Oct. 11, a few days before the event moderated by Ms. Crowley. Vice presidential debates have been moderated by a woman twice before, bot h times by Gwen Ifill of PBS.

Mr. Lehrer, the former anchor of the “PBS NewsHour,” will be back for his twelfth turn as debate moderator, leading off on Oct. 3. Mr. Schieffer, the host of “Face the Nation” on CBS, will moderate the last presidential debate on Oct. 22. Mr. Schieffer similarly led the last debate between Barack Obama and John McCain in 2008, and he scored a coup on Sunday when he had the first joint television interview of Mitt Romney and his running mate Representative Paul Ryan.

The commission made no public comment on Monday about the decision to include two women for the first time. The media-savvy teenagers from New Jersey, though, were ready with comments in advance, thanks to the group Change.org. (Barbara Walters moderated several presidential debates before the
commission took charge of the process in 1988.)

“Through this campaign, millions of Americans learned that two decades passed without a woman moderating a U.S. presidential debate,” one of
the young women, Emma Axelrod, said in a 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.”

Though a coup for the teenagers, the announcement may not necessarily be viewed as a coup for female journalists. Last week, high-level women in the television news industry, who w spoke only on condition of anonymity, wondered whether women would be selected to moderate the two traditional debates. They noted that those assignments have the highest prestige and authority. And on Monday, those assignments went to Mr. Lehrer and Mr. Schieffer, longtime moderators.

The selections were first identified on Monday by The Drudge Report before being confirmed by the commission.

In an email message celebrating the selection of Ms. Raddatz, the ABC News president Ben Sherwood wr ote of the four debates, they “will air on all networks and cable news stations, public television and radio, commercial radio, and will be live-streamed online.” He added, “Since 1988, the Commission has sponsored the only sanctioned debates; they
are each watched by many millions of Americans; and they usually deliver some of the most memorable moments of the campaign.”

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting to this article.