More thoughts on debate moderators, gender, and age

Yesterday, I expressed the hope that the 2016 presidential and vice presidential debates will serve up better female moderators than Martha Raddatz and Candy Crowley. One reader-friend asked if I could suggest such a moderator.

I can: Gwen Ifill.

Here is what I wrote about Ifill after she presided over the vice presidential debate in 2004:

Tonight’s vice presidential debate featured two superb performances. Unfortunately for John Edwards, they were delivered by the incumbent and by moderator Gwen Ifill. . . .

I hope our readers won’t mind if I start with Ifill. Because we attack the MSM so often, it seems only fair to praise one of its members when praise is due, and it is certainly due tonight. I saw not the slightest hint of bias on Ifill’s part. She asked mostly tough, mostly intelligent questions of both candidates, and somehow managed to be stern, friendly, and entertaining all at the same time. If she can keep it up, the presidential debates could be blessed for decades with that rarest of “brokers” — one that is both fair and intelligent.

Ifill ran into controversy in 2008 because she moderated the vice presidential debate even though she was set to publish a book about Barack Obama. I argued that this raised legitimate conflict of interest questions, and I still believe that Ifill should not have moderated debates in the 2008 cycle. However, her actual performance as a moderator in the Biden-Palin debate was not, in my view, problematic.

Come 2016, Ifill should be on the shortlist for another turn at moderating.

Come to think of it, the list of qualified, competent moderators in that cycle may be short, indeed. Bob Schieffer is 75 years old, and says he will moderate no more. Jim Lehrer is 78. If we’re talking about gender, it’s fair to wonder who, if anyone, among the male MSM establishment can take their places.

In fact, the real issue here may be generational. Lehrer and Schieffer are relics of an era when the MSM, although hardly unbiased, contained significant precincts in which the distinction between covering news and making it held some sway. With the passing of that generation, we may be condemned to a steady diet of Raddatz-Crowley types regardless of gender.


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