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The challenge of moderating 2012 presidential debates

Candy Crowley’s choice to moderate the 2012 presidential debates is a milestone considering that no woman journalist has been chosen for the role since 1992 when ABC’s Carole Simpson was the only female moderator. A recent announcement by the Commission on Presidential Debates says the cable network’s chief political correspondent is set to lead one of three debates before the November 6 presidential election.

Candy Crowley of CNN

“I am wowed, amazed and excited by the opportunity to moderate a 2012 presidential debate,” Crowley said.

With the history making choice of a woman comes with it an obligation and a historic opportunity to salvage the rancor that has dominated politics since 2008 election of President Barak Obama.

Other debate moderators include PBS Newshour’s Jim Lehrer on October 3 and CBS News’ Bob Schieffer on October 22. Both have led several past presidential debates. ABC News’ Martha Raddatz will moderate the October 11 debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Romney’s running-mate U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin

“These journalists bring extensive experience to the job of moderating, and understand the importance of using the expanded time periods to maximum benefit,” the commission’s co-chairmen Frank Fahrenkopf and Michael McCurry said.

Here is what the moderators must accomplish: Ask the candidates to commit to embracing the outcome of the election. This election is very unique in the sense that voters couldn’t have better options to choose from. In other words, the two parties are clearly divided on a wide range of issues that voters have a clear choice.

Consequently, Romney and Obama must agree to support the policies of either of the candidates who capture the Oval office and work hard to woe his supporters to sheath the sword and end the division. Election outcomes must be respected and all moderators owe the nation this assignment to force the candidates to respect the winner of the November 6 polls.

This is important because the degree of intolerance and resistance to Obama’s election in 2008 suggested that the election outcome was not acceptable to the opposition.

Now we are on that journey again, and journalists are positioned to be efficient umpires in this contest of ideas that characterize this election.

The move follows a recent push for a female moderator since ABC’s Carole Simpson in 1992. The commission made no mention of the gender milestone in making its announcement, only the moderators’ expertise.

Several female U.S. lawmakers and other women’s groups pressed for a newswoman to lead a debate after three New Jersey teen-aged girls began an online petition at The girls also called on Romney and Obama, a Democrat, for support.

“It is long past due to have a woman on the same stage as the men running for president,” one of the girls, Sammi Siegel, wrote online. Their petition drew 170,000 signatures, several lawmakers said earlier this month.

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) began in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties to establish the way that presidential election debates are run between candidates for President of the United States. The Commission is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) corporation as defined by Federal US tax laws, whose debates are sponsored by private contributions from foundations and corporations.

The Commission sponsors and produces debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and undertakes research and educational activities relating to the debates

The first presidential debate moderated by Jim Lehrer, Executive Editor of the PBS NewsHour will take place on Wednesday, October 3, at University of Denver, Denver, Colorado. The debate will focus on domestic policy and be divided into six time segments of approximately 15 minutes each on topics to be selected by the moderator and announced several weeks before the debate. The moderator will open each segment with a question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond.  The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the topic.

Vice presidential debate to be moderated by Martha Raddatz, Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent, ABC News on Thursday, October 11, at Centre College, Danville, KY will cover both foreign and domestic topics and be divided into nine time segments of approximately 10 minutes each.  The moderator will ask an opening question, after which each candidate will have two minutes to respond.  The moderator will use the balance of the time in the segment for a discussion of the question.

Candy Crowley, Chief Political Correspondent, CNN and Anchor, CNN’s State of the Union will moderate the second presidential debate (town meeting): Tuesday, October 16, at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY. The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates on foreign and domestic issues.  Candidates each will have two minutes to respond, and an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate a discussion.  The town meeting participants will be undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization.

Third presidential debate to be moderated by Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News and Moderator, Face the Nation Monday, October 22, at Lynn University, Boca Raton, FL. The format for the debate will be identical to the first presidential debate and will focus on foreign policy.

All debates will take place from 9:00-10:30 p.m. Eastern Time.  There will be no opening statements and two-minute closing statements in all the debates.   In all the debates except town meeting, the CPD recommends that the candidates be seated at a table with the moderator.

The CPD is undertaking an innovative internet-based voter education program that will encourage citizens to become familiar with the issues to be discussed in the debates, and to share their input with the debate moderators in advance of the debates.  The program, which will be announced later this month, will be led by a coalition of internet leaders.