Martha Raddatz, the journalist moderating the vice presidential debate, was under double pressure last night: she was representing women, who have been far outnumbered in debates, and she was representing moderators, who have developed the reputation lately as that off old media relics that get easily trampled on by candidates.
It may be hard to believe, but it's still incredibly rare for female journalists to moderate presidential debates. Before this election season, you didn't need all the fingers on one hand to count the number of women who had moderated a presidential debate in the 25 years that the Commission on Presidential Debates has been holding them. That gender imbalance sparked New Jersey teenagers to create a petition on Change.org. After a secret selection process among the debates commission, the young activists appeared to win. This election marks the first time that moderating duties are evenly split between male and female journalists, according to the New York Times.
But with Jim Lehrer's weak moderation getting wildly ridiculed, it's questionable whether moderators even matter all that much anymore.
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After last night's debate, many argued that yes, moderators do matter, and that Martha Raddatz was up to the task. The Washington Post showered Martha Raddatz with enthusiastic (if cheesy) praise: "Female journalists and wannabe girl reporters immediately had a new geek role model," the Post's Suzi Parker wrote.
Poynter.org also found that many journalists praised Raddatz's performance on Twitter.
The Huffington Post says that Raddatz succeeded by asking far more specific questions than Lehrer did. While Lehrer asked broad, easy questions, Raddatz called the candidates out on specific criticisms they had received. For example, she pressed Biden about the attacks in Libya, asking, "Wasn't this a massive intelligence failure?"
But a few of her questions still did come across as out-of-touch and archaic to some. One major example was her so-called "Catholic question," in which she asked Joe Biden and Paul Ryan to reflect on their religion: "This debate is, indeed, historic," Raddatz said. "We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion."
On MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell found the Catholic angle of the question to be inappropriate, saying that it had "absolutely no business in a government that has a separation of church and state." He added later: "I'm glad that both candidates simply politely nodded to the question, and then moved quickly to a discussion of abortion, which is an actual governing question that she should have asked instead."
Many Republicans thought that Raddatz was unfair on Ryan. "Martha Raddatz is the worst moderator ever," Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity tweeted. "Maybe next time Paul Ryan should invite her to his wedding." That Tweet was a reference to a news story reporting that Barack Obama had been a guest at Raddatz's wedding in 1991, the Associated Press reported.