September 26, 2008

Why No Woman As a Debate Moderator?

By Al Neuharth

OXFORD, Miss. -- The first presidential debate may or may not go exactly as planned here tonight at Ole Miss. This red, white and blue decorated campus was abuzz Thursday. Faculty, students and thousands of visitors -- including scores of newsmen and women -- debated whether John McCain's call for cancellation was a patriotic move or a political stunt.

But this seems certain about the three debates that are scheduled -- moderators will be these three old, white, male TV news stars:

*First, Jim Lehrer, 74, of PBS.

*Oct. 7, Tom Brokaw, 68, of NBC.

*Oct. 15, Bob Schieffer, 71, of CBS.

All three are very good. All three are longtime professional friends of mine. All three have received the "Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media" at my alma mater, the University of South Dakota.

But, while I respect and admire them, it bothers me that these debates don't demonstrate among the moderators the diversity in age, race and gender that has been so historic among candidates in this presidential race.

Moderators are chosen by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates. Commission co-chairmen also are old, white males -- Democrat Paul G. Kirk Jr., 70, and Republican Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., 69.

Foremost among the bypassed by the commission is CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric, 51. I've been critical of Couric in that CBS role. She is miscast as a news anchor. But she was superb as an interviewer in her former role on NBC's morning Today show. She would have been an excellent choice as a debate moderator.

The Commission on Debates miscast the moderators. In the future, women and/or minorities must be represented. There should be no debate about that. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>