First Female Moderator: Men Are Given Favored Debates

The first – and so far, last – woman to moderate a presidential debate twenty years ago told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show that she’s disturbed that male moderators are still given the important debate assignments.

Former ABC anchor Carole Simpson became the first woman and first African American to moderate a presidential debate when she took the mic in 1992. That debate was also the first with the town hall-style format.

She said she is disappointed that CNN's Candy Crowley was assigned to moderate the Oct. 16 debate, which will also be focused on questions from the audience.

“I’m afraid that’s becoming the woman’s slot, as the town hall format is going to be the woman’s slot,” she said.

Simpson found the format of the 1992 debate constraining, as a producer was in her ear telling her which audience member she should go to next. 

"I called myself 'the lady with the microphone' because that's what I did, I held the microphone," she said. "[Crowley] will be the lady with the microphone walking among the audience and having the citizens ask their questions." 

Allowing the public to ask questions is important, she added, but only assigning women to the job is marginalizing.

“The thing that disturbs me most is that two men, Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer, both great journalists, will be able to ask questions – their own questions of the candidates, one-on-one during their debates. But Candy, on a year when women’s issues have come to the fore on reproductive rights and so on, she will not be able to ask her own questions, and that disturbs me.”

Gwen Ifill of PBS moderated the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008. Martha Raddatz of ABC will moderate this year’s head-to-head between Vice President Joe Biden and his challenger, Paul Ryan.

“If I were Candy, I think I’d go rogue,” she added. “But if some woman doesn’t ask a question about reproductive rights, I think I would go ahead and violate the rules and ask the question.”

Women bring their gender to the role, and Simpson said that is particularly important in this election cycle.

“A question from a woman about why you oppose abortion has much more import than coming from a man. We've had men talking about what women can and cannot do with their reproductive systems for years and years now and it’s like, ‘Hey, a woman needs to ask that question.’”

Carole Simpson spoke to WNYC’s Brian Lehrer this morning about the 1992 debate and what she would ask President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney if she were moderating this year.