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The GEM Debate: The Presidential Debates And The Diversity Dilemma.. Does It Matter?

PBS's Jim Lehrer, CBS's Bob Schieffer, CNN's Candy Crowley with ABC's Martha Raddatz To dive into today’s debate I have to take you back to the Thanksgiving celebrations of my childhood. I love everything about Thanksgiving; the food, the family, the fun. But it wasn’t always that way. Here, let me tell you why.

When my sister, Tracy and I were young, we always had to sit at the kiddie table. The kiddie table was the one at the end of the big table, and was typically (being that it was a real kiddie table) smaller than the others. While we never went hungry, we were, most of the time, situated near the green beans not the turkey and though close enough to hear the grown folks’ conversation, we were still too far away to participate.

That is a very rudimentary way of backing into today’s debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates announced yesterday the moderators of the three debates between President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney. They are PBS’s Jim Lehrer, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, CNN’s Candy Crowley with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, helming the vice-presidential debates. And while there are two women represented, something is still missing. It starts with a D and ends with a Y.

That word is diversity.. but is that important? I think it is and here’s why.

There is no question our country is struggling mightily; we’re coming off of some of the worst economic times in recent memory. While we’re all hurting, there are segments of the population who are being more acutely affected than others.

Overall unemployment stands at just over 8%. But it’s nearly double that for African Americans, at 14. 4 %, a trend that is not new. And that will certainly be one of the topics on the agenda when the candidates go head to head this fall.

Now, I’m not saying that any of these moderators can’t ask about unemployment, but will the question and their concern carry the same weight if they aren’t affected in a personal way? I don’t mean they have to be unemployed but maybe just know how that impacts the community they are a part of (and unemployment is just one issue that is different in communities of color).

Where was Gwen Ifill? What about Carole Simpson or Lester Holt? Any of those journalists could have stepped in and done a fine job as one of the moderators. But I think that fact that they are not there speaks to an even more troubling trend in TV news; why are there so few journalists of color in the Big Chair?

Since my early days in TV news,  I’ve believed that diversity is critical to serving the people who watch you. It’s not something that should be done; it MUST be done because it’s just good business.

The point I’m trying to make is that it’s hard to affect change when you’re not seated at the table, Thanksgiving and otherwise. Will things change, ever, in TV news? I’d like to think so.. but it is 2012; if it hasn’t happened by now,  I’m not sure it ever will.

Okay so the question for debate is this; do you think it’s important to have a more representative panel of moderators for the presidential debates? Is it important for viewers and for the candidates to hear and see from other segments of society? And will you watch the debates? Lemme hear ya!

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