Presidential Debate Commission Turns Blind Eye Toward Race

Race has always been a central issue in our nation’s politics, too often reflected throughout our history in news coverage that gave credibility to racist government policies.

Race is front and center this presidential election year so it's hard to comprehend why the Commission on Presidential Debates failed to select a journalist of color to moderate at least one of the upcoming debates. 

Free Press sent a letter to the Commission on Tuesday, calling on it to remedy the situation:

“The Commission’s decision not to select a journalist of color is hard to justify. People of color make up more than 35 percent of the U.S. population, and there are many prominent journalists of color who would serve ably as moderators. Furthermore, the Commission’s initial response to the criticism of its selections failed to acknowledge legitimate concerns about the importance of ensuring that moderators will ask questions about issues impacting communities of color.”

Free Press added its voice to a chorus of journalists of color and civil rights groups criticizing the Commission, including the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the NAACP, UNITY and Univision, the Spanish-language TV network.

"The Commission had a chance to embrace the racial kaleidoscope that the American electorate is fast becoming, and chose instead to remain blind to it," said Sonya Ross, the chair of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Political Journalism Task Force. "It is time to end this cyclical charade of treating equally deserving, equally capable journalists of color as if they are invisible, unqualified, or both."

The Joint Center called the Commission’s decision “disturbing given the nature of our political climate.”

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists lamented that a Latino journalist has never been chosen to moderate a presidential debate and called the Commission’s track record on selecting moderators of color “disheartening.”

NAHJ President Hugo Balta and Interim Executive Director Anna Lopez recently met with Commission Co-Chair Mike McCurry to discuss how to address the situation. McCurry welcomed feedback from journalists of color in suggesting potential questions for the debate.

“I believe our meeting was encouraging,” Balta wrote in a message to NAHJ members. “The CPD now knows where we stand on this issue. Together we will work on making sure that Latino journalists are not left out of the presidential debates in the coming years.”