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Gwen Ifill, the Presidential Debates, and the Escalating Demand for Diversity Among Moderators

September 29, 2008

We're all gearing up for Gwen Ifill's most intriguing assignment-revealing the real Sarah Palin and Joe Biden to the world. Be sure to check out our coverage of the election and the bailout on www.womensmediacenter.com. Speaking of excellent female journalists, we were so happy that Bonnie Erbe of PBS's "To The Contrary" had two of our Progressive Women's Voices participants on this weekend's show. Catch Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner of Moms Rising.org and Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever of the National Council of Negro Women on the September 26 show here: www.pbs.org/ttc/podcasts.html.

We know you have a question for Barack Obama and John McCain - here's your chance. Bob Schieffer of CBS, the moderator of the final Presidential debate on October 15, has responded to The Women's Media Center's Show Me the Women campaign by accepting questions from the WMC. The focus of the debate is domestic affairs, and the deadline for questions is Wednesday, October 1. We already have hundreds of essential, thought-provoking-and, as yet unasked-questions for the candidates. You can view them here, and add your own by 5pm Wednesday: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/937/t/8011/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=1390

As you may remember, the WMC launched Show Me the Women in August, as soon as the moderators were announced, asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to reconsider its all-white, all-male lineup. The history of moderator selection is appalling. I wrote about it last week in The Huffington Post. Of the 27 Presidential debates televised nationally since 1960, only 4 have been moderated by women. The movement is well underway to make sure this imparity is addressed.

We've acquired some powerful allies: among them, news visionary Al Neuharth, the former Gannett chair and founder of USA Today, the country's most-read paper in his most recent column, he took the Commission to task: "it bothers me that these debates don't demonstrate among the moderators the diversity in age, race and gender that has been so historic among candidates in this presidential race… The Commission on Debates miscast the moderators. In the future, women and-or minorities must be represented. There should be no debate about that."

Our partners, The National Council of Women's Organizations, representing 240 women's groups and 12 million women launched its protest. Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, another NCWO member group, said, "We hear a lot about the gender gap in elections, but nobody's talking about the gender gap in how the questions put to candidates are framed and presented. It's never too late to remedy a gross injustice."

Karen Lincoln Michel, the president of UNITY, the organization that represents the country's journalists of color, issued an alert: "It is a glaring oversight …to have such a lack of diversity in a nation and an election where race, gender and age play such significant roles." Tavis Smiley, who hosts his own show on PBS says, "In a race where all the energy and enthusiasm has been generated by two women and a person of color - the debate commission failed big time in prime time." WMC Honorary Advisory Council member Geneva Overholser, Director of USC's Annenberg School of Journalism said, "Just when I thought we'd realized how much more interesting things are when women, people of color and young people are involved, we get this."

Indeed. But the WMC is committed to working with partners and colleagues to make sure that media fulfills its part in our democracy. The Commission is out of step with our diverse society. The networks have not done their part in advancing women and people of color up the ladder, either onscreen, in the editorial meetings, or the executive suites.

The WMC is in the forefront of demanding changes in the media. Join us in our efforts. The WMC leads the way for demanding changed in the media. Fight sexism today by making a tax deductible gift now: https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/937/t/4935/shop/custom.jsp?donate_page_KEY=3691

On a note of true sadness, we want to send our heartfelt wishes to a dear friend and partner of WMC, Dori Maynard, and the Maynard Institute of Journalism Education. Nancy Hicks Maynard, a founder of the Institute with her husband Robert, died last week. She was a journalistic trailblazer-the first African American woman reporter at the New York Times, at age 21, in 1968. With her husband she later bought and published the Oakland Tribune, still the only major metropolitan daily to have been owned by African Americans. After the couple sold the paper, Nancy Hicks went on to Stanford Law School and formed her own media diversity company, working tirelessly for a place for journalists of color in mainstream media. Hers was a monumental contribution, worthy of our great respect, and thanks.

Sending warmest wishes to you all,

Carol Jenkins
President

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