At least one presidential debate needs a woman as moderator

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I am the first and the last woman to moderate a presidential debate during a general-election campaign. That was in 1992. Twenty years ago.

I was shocked when reminded of this fact by three teenage girls from New Jersey. Sammi Siegel, who’s 15, and Elena Tsemberis and Emma Axelrod, both 16, started a campaign to petition the Bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates to pick a female moderator for at least one of the three presidential debates scheduled for this October. Debates are often decisive in who becomes president, since it’s a chance for voters to hear the candidates state their positions on the issues and discuss solutions for the future.

I agree with the teenagers that there needs to be a female moderator, especially one who can bring to the forefront of the debates the issues of women’s rights that are being challenged today. Of course, a man could ask such questions, but a woman has the experience and knowledge of women’s problems that a man will never possess.

Courtesy of Carole Simpson
Carole Simpson (left, in red) moderating a presidential debate for ABC News in 1992.

Baby boomer females, who lived through the women’s liberation movement, thought the issues of reproductive and equal rights were settled in the 1970s. We were then touting that we “babies” had “come a long way.” Who would have thought that in 2012, these very rights we fought so hard to secure would be threatened again, so much so that our very lives may be in danger?

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In addition to women’s rights, women care about and bring a unique perspective to a wide range of issues, including healthcare, immigration, and the economy, which will also be part of the debates this fall. Lest anyone forget, women are 50.8 percent of the US population, outnumber men in colleges and professional schools, and make up almost half of the labor force. Women are politically active. In the 2008 election, 66 percent of women voted, compared with 62 percent of men. Women are well represented in the presidential campaign staffs and as reporters on the campaign trail. They are among the political analysts you see most frequently on public affairs television shows. And of course, we bear the children that our society requires to grow and prosper.

Aren’t those reasons enough to ensure that women are always entitled to moderate a presidential debate?

The New Jersey teenagers garnered 170,000 email signatures; last week they attempted to present them to Commission Executive Director Janet Brown. Despite the publicity that the teenagers were coming to Washington to see her, Brown managed to be out of the office when the young women arrived with four cartons of petitions. Security would not allow them to leave the boxes at headquarters.

The brave young women tried. Now it is time for grown women to pick up the challenge and demand of the Commission that it dare not host any more presidential debates without a woman as a sole moderator.

Carole Simpson, a former ABC News weekend anchor, is a member of the journalism faculty at Emerson College.