Only two women have ever been trusted with the job of impartial and unbiased moderation of the presidential debates; Barbara Walters in 1976 and 1984 and Carol Simpson in 1992. The appointment of moderators is done by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a bipartisan, non-profit organization that was established to sponsor and produce the presidential and vice presidential debates. The Commission has been criticized at different times for a lack of diversity and the failure to permit third party presidential candidates participation.
This spring, upon learning in civics class that there hadn’t been a female moderator in 20 years, three teens from New Jersey decided to try do something about it. They started a Change.Org petition for the inclusion of a woman moderator for the 2012 presidential election and received over 180,000 signatures. They came in person to the Washington, DC headquarters to present their petition to the CPD but were denied a meeting with the organization or even acknowledgement of the petition. However, they started a second petition, aimed at getting the Obama and Romney campaigns to put pressure on the CPD to appoint a woman.
The story gained attention and traction in the news and across social media. When the CPD announced the line-up of moderators for this presidential election debate cycle on August 13th, it included Candy Crowley, CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent. At AWIS we are excited to see a woman moderator and hope this will become the norm, rather than having to wait another 20 years. However, as most of the questions that are of interest to our membership aren’t likely to be addressed in these debates, we will be submitting our own questions to the candidates which will be published on our website and in a future AWIS in Action!
No sooner had the story broke and victory been declared, than other groups frustrated by a lack of diversity and representation began speaking out. As Jim Lehrer, for example, will be moderating his 12th debate, it’s easy to see why others would like an opportunity to have their questions answered. However, nobody has been complaining about the fact that science always gets the short stick in these debates. In the 2004 elections some 1400 questions were asked; exactly six mentioned science, and of those, three involved UFOs. Science Debate 2012 worked hard to try to get science issues into debate topics in 2008 and continues to voice the importance of this issue for the 2012 debate cycle. 85 percent of Americans think these questions are important and ought to be addressed, and as supporters of Science Debates, we agree.