In 1992, former ABC anchor Carole Simpson became the first woman to moderate a presidential debate. There hasn't been another female moderator since. That'll change later this year, but Simpson says that even this year, women moderators are confined to the vice presidential debate and a town-hall style debate where the moderator can't ask questions of their own. Brooke talks with Simpson about what women moderators might add to debates.
Kelley Stoltz - Little Girl
BROOKE GLADSTONE: We’re past the point where you can comfortably ignore the presidential election. In Iowa, early voting has already begun, and in Ohio it starts Tuesday. On Wednesday in Denver we have the first debate between the two nominees. And, as usual, the campaigns are trying to tamp down our expectations by talking up the rhetorical skills of the opposing candidate. On Air Force One, Obama’s traveling press secretary Jen Psaki called Mitt Romney “the most prepared presidential debater in modern history,” whereas her candidate, she said, hadn’t really had time to study. As for Romney, when asked on a tarmac in Dayton whether voters are expecting too much of him on debate night, he conceded sensibly:
MITT ROMNEY: I don’t know exactly how to raise or lower expectations.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And then immediately reminded viewers that:
MITT ROMNEY: The President is – obviously a very eloquent, gifted speaker. He’ll do just fine.
BOB GARFIELD: Also keeping our expectations modestly in check, the debate moderators, PBS’ Jim Lehrer, for the 12th time, CBS veteran Bob Schieffer, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, for the vice presidential debate, and CNN’s Candy Crowley, who will host a town hall-style event with the two presidential candidates. Lacking a Fox News presence, to some critics the lineup is – you know, lame-stream. Here’s Rush Limbaugh on Lehrer:
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Far left-wing liberal Democrat.
BOB GARFIELD: Schieffer.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Far, far left-wing liberal Democrat and dinosaur.
BOB GARFIELD: Rad datz.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Far, far left-wing liberal Democrat.
BOB GARFIELD: And Crowley.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Far, far left-wing Democrat mama.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Another fun fact about the moderators, no woman has moderated a debate between two presidential candidates for 20 years! The first and last woman to do so was former ABC correspondent and :news anchor Carole Simpson back in 1992, who had the rare distinction of wrangling three candidates.
CAROLE SIMPSON: The candidates are: the Republican nominee, President George Bush, the Independent, Ross Perot – and Governor Bill Clinton, the Democratic nominee.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last August three teenaged girls from Montclair, New Jersey petitioned for more women moderators, and they gathered some 180,000 names. We don’t know if that influenced the choice of the Commission on Presidential Debates. We do know that in Simpson’s view the role of the female journalist in the current debate lineup shows that very little has changed.
CAROLE SIMPSON: The men are going to be able to go head to head with the candidates. I just found out that Jim Lehrer’s going to devote half of the 90 minutes to the economy. Then we’ve got Bob Schieffer, and he’s going to be doing international affairs for the last debate. In between that is Candy Crowley. She will be doing what I did, be the lady with the microphone among an audience of undecided voters. I didn’t have any opportunity to ask my own questions of the candidates. Now Candy, who is one of the most politically astute reporters in the country, has got the same town hall format. It looks like the Commission is deciding that the town hall format is what women should do, and the real tough questioning should come from men.
Martha Raddatz at ABC is a fantastic journalist, and she has been chosen to moderate the vice presidential debate. Two other debates have been moderated by a woman, both of them by Gwen Ifill from PBS, and she did a fine job. It looks like it’s a woman’s slot now. And it’s not the really big show. I think it’s outrageous.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What is it specifically you think is going to be missing if you don’t have experienced women asking some questions of their own?
CAROLE SIMPSON: I have great respect for Jim Lehrer and for Bob Schieffer, and I’m sure they could ask questions about reproductive rights, which have become issues in this campaign. But they’re not gonna ask them with the authority and the import that a woman would.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you mean that they are better equipped to follow up and not accept an insufficient response?
CAROLE SIMPSON: Absolutely, because they know and they care. Women vote in greater numbers and are the majority of the population, and I just think it’s important that women ask questions that women want answers to. I mean, I can’t believe that Lehrer has decided that he’s gonna do three of his six segments on the economy, when there are so many other issues.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what do you think Crowley should do?
CAROLE SIMPSON: Well, if Candy is stuck in that town hall format and there hasn’t been a voter who has asked a question about women’s rights, I think I would break the rules and just ask the question. It’s just got to be dealt with!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So you’re saying she should go rogue.
CAROLE SIMPSON: I would go rogue.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Carole, thank you very much.
CAROLE SIMPSON: You’re quite welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Former ABC News Anchor Carole Simpson is the author of “NewsLady.” Also, thanks to the Paley Center to helping put this together.