When the debate between vice president Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan begins on Thursday from Centre College in Danville, Ky., all eyes, at least those of media watchers, will be looking not at the candidates, but at first-time moderator Martha Raddatz.
Given the vitriol directed at last week’s debate moderator Jim Lehrer for his hands-off approach to moderating, it seems safe to assume Raddatz, who is ABC News’ senior foreign affairs correspondent, will be under intense scrutiny for how she handles the VP debate.
Raddatz declined an interview request this week, but when I spoke to her last month for a B&C cover story, she, like Lehrer, said that debates should be more about the candidates than the moderator – “I don’t want to be the story, I don’t.”
“I feel like you ask tough, fair questions about the issues most important to voters and but you also have the candidates talk to one another,” she said. “If you can fact check, absolutely you should be able to fact-check as the moderator. They also have to question in each in this format.”
For another reason, ABC News on Tuesday launched a preemptive defense of Raddatz, in response to a planned story on the conservative site The Daily Caller attempting to discredit Raddatz as an impartial moderator because Barack Obama, then a student at Harvard Law School, attended her 1991 wedding to ex-husband Julius Genachowski, then Obama’s law school classmate and now commissioner of the FCC.
Raddatz and Genachowski were divorced in 1997 and are both now remarried. In a statement, ABC News calls the bias claims “absurd.”
On Thursday, the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates also gave a statement to USA Today defending her selection.
“We selected Martha Raddatz because she is a terrific journalist and will be a terrific moderator and we’re thrilled to have her,” CPD adviser Peter Eyre said. “The notion that that somehow affects her ability is not something we have given a moment’s thought to.”
No matter how she performs in Thursday’s debate, one thing is for sure – she’ll be under a very bright spotlight.