Now that it seems certain that there will be a Presidential debate tonight, that John McCain won't be among the missing, can we turn our attention to those who still will be? Namely, women journalists who could serve as able moderators — and who were passed over by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The result is that we must again endure the old boys at the network. This is not to in any way insult their talent — it's just that we have been here before. In fact, over and over again, as if time had not passed, as if a woman had not run for President, as if there was, in fact, not a woman on the Republican ticket to this day. When it comes down to the most important conversations about our country, women have been asked to leave the room.
Carole Simpson of ABC was the first and last to operate in the post-primary season debates: that was in 1992. So, for four Presidential cycles — 1996, 2000, 2004, and this year, 2008 — the Commission and the networks have deemed no woman anchor or correspondent "worthy" of the big discussions, the "serious" conversations.
We know, of course, that reliable Gwen Ifill, reprising her duties, now has the most anticipated debate — the Vice Presidential match-up on October 2nd between Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. We also know that she is capable of handling Barack Obama and John McCain — and that there are many other women who could as well: Judy Woodruff, Katie Couric, Andrea Mitchell, and my personal favorite, Candy Crowley of CNN, come to mind immediately.
But in truth, the reason the networks go back again to Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw and Bob Schieffer is that mainstream media has done an inadequate job of mentoring and promoting women in their news departments.
Here at The Women's Media Center, we launched a campaign, Show Me the Women, urging people to write to the Commission and demand they add a woman. Many responded, including Bob Schieffer, who will be hosting the October 15th debate on domestic issues. While saying he couldn't do much to alter the form of the debate, he would accept questions from WMC. If you have one you'd like us to send along, please add it here by October 1st.
But our work has just begun. A question or two in a debate does not equalize access.
The basic training for moderating a Presidential debate is anchoring the big evening news show, and hosting the Sunday morning news/talk extravaganzas that validate the week's priorities. Sunday morning is still an all-male zone, channel-to-channel. While we have seen an increased presence of women pundits, we have not seen many serious women journalists moving up the ranks. Campbell Brown has taken over the "women's hour" on CNN. The fact that progressive Rachel Maddow now has a successful show is good news all-around, but it does not add to the" tenure track," if you will, towards Presidential Debate-dom.
That will require all of us, first of all to notice, then protest, the absence of women in the media at the highest levels. If women can run for President and Vice President of the United States, then surely there's a woman or two up to asking the right questions.