I was IMing with a staffer for one of the non-Hillary Clinton campaigns who was annoyed by the way Clinton is talking about gender in the wake of Tuesday night's debate, which featured Clinton as the lone woman facing six male competitors and two male questioners, when it occurred to me that there would be a very easy way to change the dynamic so that there's not so much focus on Clinton's gender: There should be some women moderating these debates.
It's problematic that of the six official Democratic National Committee-sanctioned debates, only the final one, on Dec. 10, will feature a female moderator, and then only as part of a team. This sets up a disquieting dynamic for female Democratic viewers, and also sets up a visual that benefits Clinton by showcasing her status as a pioneer in a man's world. Television is the most-gender integrated form of media we have, because women watch more television than men (though not perhaps more political debates), and because it just looks wrong to them in this day and age to be presented with the visual of an all male world. (No one notices in print journalism.)
Unfortunately, mainstream nightly news programs have a ways to go when it comes to featuring women as the anchor, and none of the Sunday political talk shows (except the all-female To The Contrary) is hosted by a woman. Hence, the moderators for the six DNC-sanctioned debates:
- Anderson Cooper (July 23, 2007: YouTube/Google and CNN in Charleston, SC)
- George Stephanopoulous (August 19, 2007: ABC in Des Moines, IA)
- Tim Russert (September 26, 2007: NBC News/MSNBC in Hanover, NH)
- Tim Russert and Brian Williams (October 30, 2007: NBC News/MSNBC in Philadelphia, PA)
- Wolf Blitzer November 15, 2007: CNN in Las Vegas, NV
- Bob Schieffer and Katie Couric (December 10, 2007: CBS in Los Angeles, CA)
That's just 12.5 percent women moderators (I counted Russert twice since he moderated twice).* If the DNC didn't want to set up a dynamic that reinforced Clinton's message to women primary voters, it could have put some pressure on the media institutions it was partnering with to send some female moderators to help run the debates. It's likely too late for any changes now, but this is the kind of thing worth thinking about in the future.
* Allison King of New England Cable News posed a few questions from New England locals during the latter part of Sept. 26 NBC debate, and there were, obviously, many questions from women during the YouTube debate. But the moderators for the debates were 87.5 percent male -- a gender breakdown that's even worse than the Senate!