Shunning Latino, black and Asian journalist moderators for presidential debates underscores nation’s systemic attitudes towards race

LatinaLista — With all the talk and coverage there has been in the mainstream media about the Latino vote, it’s a crazy irony that Latinos, and other voters of color, are having to fight to remain a relevant part of this presidential campaign.

From left to right: Jim Lehrer of PBS, Bob Schieffer of CBS, Candy Crowley of CNN and Martha Raddatz of ABC News — chosen moderators for the presidential and vice-presidential debates.

The latest example has to do with the presidential debates.

Not one Latino or black or Asian or Muslim moderator is included in the line-up of forthcoming presidential and vice-presidential debates.

Univision management asked the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to have one more debate that could either be moderated by their own national news anchors, Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas, or some other Spanish-language television anchor. They were denied.

Friday, in support of a debate addressing Latino issues was made by Ralph B. Everett, the chief executive of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. In a letter to the CPD he wrote in part:

“It has long been the practice of the television industry to avoid placing people of color in front of the camera” and he hoped that the CPD would reconsider their decision.

Benjamin Todd Jealous, CEO and president of the NAACP, also rebuked the CDP:

“The lack of diversity among this year’s debate moderators is representative of the overall lack of diversity in news media. Whether it’s as primetime news anchors, debate moderators, or commentators on the influential Sunday morning political talk shows, people of color – and African Americans specifically – are strikingly underrepresented.”

Yet, through all this criticism, Janet H. Brown, executive director of the Commission on Presidential Debates, forwarded the following statement to journalist Richard Prince of the Maynard Institute’s Journal-isms on Friday:

“The Commission on Presidential Debates is grateful for the interest shown by various organizations in its moderator selection process; this interest underscores the importance of the moderators’ role in debates that focus time and attention on the candidates, not on other participants.

“The four journalists chosen to moderate the 2012 debates see their assignment as representing all Americans in choosing topics and questions…

The Commission has reviewed formats and moderators extensively over the last 18 months, and has chosen moderators who have skills particularly suited to the 2012 formats, all of which will be implemented by a single moderator. This review included more than 60 journalists of various backgrounds and experience.

“The choice of a single moderator makes it difficult to accommodate all the groups that have expressed interest in having one of their representatives chosen. But we are confident that these debates will provide valuable information on the issues, devote time to the candidates and their views, and foster a serious discussion of the matters facing voters this fall.”

Brown’s statement that “the choice of a single moderator makes it difficult to accommodate all the groups that have expressed interest…” implies that the CDP can’t possibly choose just one ethnic group because then that opens the floodgates for every ethnic and special-interest group to want to be represented. So, going all-white is the best alternative? Even though it’s people of color who are the majority of whom bad policy decisions impact the most?

On another note, for any skilled journalist comfortable with moderating any event, debate or otherwise, it’s a stretch to say that these chosen moderators “have skills particularly suited to the 2012 format.” Candy Crowley, of CNN, who is the first female moderator of a presidential debate, is overseeing a Town Hall-style format where she basically plays referee to the questions of the invited guests who, according to the CDP, will be undecided voters as identified by GALLUP.

The skillset it takes to oversee such a debate style must be something that calls for special certification — I say sarcastically.

Then there’s that other statement by CDP’s Brown that is troubling: “…this interest underscores the importance of the moderators’ role in debates that focus time and attention on the candidates, not on other participants.”

Is the implication that a person of color would take attention away from the candidates? Is there a fear that a journalist of color would act so unprofessionally that he/she would focus only on issues pertinent to the community of their ethnic heritage and ignore other questions in the script?

Or even worse: Journalists of color aren’t qualified to moderate a debate of such national importance?

Irregardless of the reason, the idea that white journalists can represent the views and issues of all Americans is preposterous. Not to mention, that they would be capable of knowing what issues are of importance among ethnic communities.

The moderators that have been chosen are high-profile and well-established at their networks. And while that signifies they are highly qualified, they also live in their own bubbles, personally unaware of the issues of ethnic Americans unless it’s an issue featured in any of the numerous polls being published these days.

The decision by the CPD illustrates the naivete that still exists in this country that ethnic Americans’ concerns are the same as white Americans. They’re not. One has only to turn off Main Street USA into communities to see overcrowded schools, unpaved residential streets, food deserts, etc. to see that things are far from equal and that the concerns of these Americans in no way equal those of their neighbors in more affluent areas.

Yet, while it’s true that a white journalist can be “briefed” on issues of importance to ethnic Americans and handed a list of questions to include that would represent these underserved communities, there’s no getting away from the most blatant message that the CPD is delivering to the nation: There is not one journalist of color in the nation that can handle such a responsibility.

To me, that’s the biggest insult and one that not only needs to be corrected but finally put to rest.

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3 Comments

  1. natthedem said:

    The CPD chooses an all-white panel of debate moderators because, to far too many in the mainstream media, white equals neutral and people of color cannot be unbiased about the first President of Color.

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