Presidential Debate Moderators: Why All White?

As people cheer the presence of two women on the just-released list of presidential and vice presidential debate moderators, another question is lingering in the air: why are the hosts all white?

On Monday, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced that Candy Crowley, Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer have been chosen to moderate the three debates in October between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. ABC's Martha Raddatz will host the vice presidential debates.

The selection of Crowley and Raddatz was music to the ears of people who had demanded the inclusion of women on the list. Yet, as Tampa Bay Times television writer Eric Deggans noted, it will be the first time since 1996 -- when Lehrer moderated every single debate -- that there has been no person of color questioning any of the candidates for the White House.

Moreover, while Carole Simpson, the former ABC journalist, drew most attention for being the last woman to moderate a debate, her stint in 1992 was also the last time an African-American was at the helm for a presidential forum. She is one of just two black journalists ever to get the top job (Bernard Shaw hosted a 1988 debate between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis). PBS' Gwen Ifill, who moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates, was passed over in 2012. There has never been an Asian or Latino moderator. In a country that is diversifying as rapidly as the U.S., these facts stick out.

UPDATE: Simpson joined HuffPost Live Tuesday afternoon to discuss this story. Watch clips of her appearance above.

Politico reported that CNN's Soledad O'Brien was considered by the CPD, but rejected. It's unclear whether other prominent journalists of color in the industry -- NBC's Lester Holt or Ann Curry, for instance, or Univision's Jorge Ramos -- were considered. Nor, of course, did the CPD reach beyond the television world.

The CPD has never been noted for its willingness to stretch. The presence of Lehrer -- who, though a trusted and capable figure, has hosted 11 debates and was chosen even after he swore he didn't want to do the job anymore -- is evidence enough of that. The selection of two new faces in Crowley and Raddatz counts as something of a leap.

And the dearth of moderators of color reflects a broader lack of diversity within the industry, as study after study repeatedly shows.

"It's sad to note that there are so few journalists of color in key anchor positions, few other names resonate with the experience, profile, gravitas and record of impartial journalism needed to fill the moderator's role," Deggans wrote. "...At a time when the biggest non-white voice in news media may be opinionators such as Al Sharpton and Geraldo Rivera, a set of debates where the candidates are more ethnically diverse than the moderators may say more about failing struggles to diversify the journalism business than anything."



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