NYT's Stelter: PBS Host Gwen Ifill 'Livid' Over Not Being Chosen to Moderate Presidential Debate

New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter made a little news at the end of his Saturday report on the picking of the moderators for the upcoming presidential and vice presidential debates: "Criticism Greets List of Debate Moderators."

Dismissing conservative concerns of liberal bias on the part of moderators as a predictable Rush Limbaugh talking point, Stelter focused more on liberal concerns about the historical lack of black and female moderators, and reported that PBS political host Gwen Ifill was "livid" about not being chosen (old-time PBS hand Jim Lehrer was coaxed out of retirement to fill the bill insetad).

Complaining about the moderators of the presidential debates is a time-honored tradition of the election season. Usually, the complaints wait until the moderators have actually asked a question.

Not this year. Monday’s announcement of this fall’s moderators -- Jim Lehrer and Bob Schieffer will preside over two presidential debates; CNN’s Candy Crowley over a third, town-hall style debate; and ABC’s Martha Raddatz will moderate the vice-presidential debate -- exposed the gulf between a new media environment moving at hyperspeed and the secretive Commission on Presidential Debates, which is steeped in the traditions of political stagecraft from prior decades.

Alan Schroeder, a Northeastern University professor who has written books about presidential debates, said the four moderators were “pretty mainstream” and noted the complaints about a lack of diversity this year. Univision, the Spanish language broadcasting giant, used its nightly newscast on Wednesday to draw attention to the lack of bilingual moderators and call for a candidate forum on its network. The National Association of Black Journalists on Friday bemoaned the lack of black moderators as “unacceptable.”

Even the selection of Ms. Crowley as the first female presidential debate moderator in 20 years has been overshadowed by complaints about other choices seen as “safe,” like Mr. Lehrer, who was chosen for the 12th time.


On Friday, Rush Limbaugh railed against Ms. Crowley (“a far, far left-wing Democrat momma”) and Mr. Schieffer (“a far, far left-wing Democrat and dinosaur”). He called Ms. Raddatz and Mr. Lehrer “far, far left” as well. More surprising was the reaction at PBS’s NewsHour, Mr. Lehrer’s home for more than 35 years until his retirement last year. The morning editorial meeting was under way on Monday when The Drudge Report revealed the names of the four moderators. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, the leaders of the program’s political coverage, were stunned to see the names.

In the suddenly gloomy meeting, some wondered if the list was legitimate. Others murmured that the selection of Mr. Lehrer was a setback for the “NewsHour,” which has been trying to show off younger stars like Ms. Ifill. Ms. Ifill, in particular, was livid, according to several people present. “I was indeed disappointed,” she confirmed Friday.