Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Pop quiz: Can you name the last time a woman hosted a Presidential debate?
Was your answer within the last two decades?
Ouch, no good—the first and only time a woman moderated was in 1992, when ABC anchor Carole Simpson oversaw performances (and really, that’s all they ought to be called) from Clinton, Bush I, and Perot. Partial credit to those who remember Gwen Ifill and Martha Raddatz, but frankly that’s being generous: A true political junkie knows that they only spearheaded Vice-Presidential showdowns.
Everything changes tonight when Candy Crowley of CNN manages the microphone in the Big Apple in the second of three Romney-Obama rumbles.
But please, let’s not get too exultant. Twenty years have passed with nothing but dudes playing political impresario; that’s a pretty disturbing record, even given our media’s shoddy history of gender representation.
And what should disturb us even more is that both Crowley and Simpson are recipients of a consolation prize: The town hall debates. No questions pass from their lips; rather, they are mere conduits for the undecided voters in attendance, who toss the candidates middling (and no doubt meticulously screened) and probably toothless queries. The moderators are to be seen, and not heard—the Vanna Whites of an electoral game show.
But don’t expect Crowley to play along.
“I think it's always best when [the candidates] engage with each other,” she said to the Huffington Post, “but that doesn't mean I won't engage with them if that gets us closer to what we need.” Read: She will not be muzzled. Simpson egged her on in an NPR interview three weeks ago: “If Candy is stuck in that town hall format and there hasn’t been a voter who has asked a question about women’s rights, I think I would break the rules and just ask the question. It’s just got to be dealt with.”
Now both campaigns are petulantly objecting to the Commission on Presidential Debates: This debate was supposed to be a glorified photo-op for them, not something substantive. And so the almost-entirely male CPD faces a dilemma: Incite the ire of two powerful politicians, or let Crowley go rogue?
I’m hoping Crowley stands her ground and raises her voice.
Erik Lorenzsonn is an intern at The Progressive magazine.