In any election, especially a closely contested one, the role of debate moderator must be filled by a professional with absolutely no personal or professional ties to either candidate or his running mate, so as to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, bias, or conflict of interest.
Is this basic and obvious ethics principle really so elusive that ABC never considered it?
We learned today that ABC’s Martha Raddatz, a senior foreign correspondent and the assigned moderator for this week’s Vice Presidential debate, was once married to a high-ranking member of the Obama administration, FCC head Julius Genachowski, and President Obama was a guest at their wedding.
Under no circumstances, in this hyper-partisan environment when “that handkerchief was a cheat sheet!” conspiracy theories follow a transparent debate thrashing, and a professional moderator who does his job, like Jim Lehrer, is used as a scapegoat to excuse a supposed master of communication who forgot to make eye contact while speaking, should a debate moderator be tolerated who has these kinds of connections to either Presidential ticket. Isn’t that obvious? If it wasn’t obvious to Raddatz and ABC, why not? What’s the matter with them?
Both moderator and network had absolute ethical obligations to 1) on their own, figure out that Raddatz could not fill the role of objective, trustworthy moderator, however hard she tries, and 2) at very least disclose these apparent conflicts in timely fashion to both candidates and their parties in timely, so they could register their concerns and veto the moderator. This is something both parties and all the candidates should be able to agree on. If one thinks of Raddatz’s role as the equivalent of a judge in a trial, she would absolutely be required to recuse herself on the basis of “appearance of impropriety,’ a core judicial ethics principle. In judging, and in moderating debates, fairness and objectivity and the appearance of fairness and objectivity are paramount.
ABC has responded to the revelations with this jaw-dropping statement:
“This is absurd. Martha Raddatz is known for her tough, fair reporting, which is why it was no surprise to her colleagues inside and outside ABC News that she was chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates for this assignment. Barack Obama was a law school classmate of Raddatz’s ex-husband Julius Genachowski at Harvard. At the time Barack Obama was a student and president of the Law Review. He attended their wedding over two decades ago along with nearly the entire Law Review, many of whom went on to successful careers including some in the Bush administration. Raddatz and Mr. Genachowski divorced in 1997 and both are now remarried.”
Unbelievable. Clearly, ethics isn’t just ignored at the network; it isn’t even recognized. Let’s examine this ridiculous set of rationalizations irrelevancies in detail:
- “This is absurd.” If ABC means a that it is absurd for a broadcast network that has been in the news business for more than 70 years to have forgotten everything it ever knew about trustworthiness and ethics, yes, it is absurd.
- “Martha Raddatz is known for her tough, fair reporting..” Irrelevant! She’s not reporting here, she is moderating in a high-profile adversarial setting where her conduct of the debate will be under close scrutiny. It doesn’t matter if she’s the greatest reporter since Lois Lane–she has personal and professional ties to the Democratic tickets, making the perception of objectivity impossible.
- “…which is why it was no surprise to her colleagues inside and outside ABC News that she was chosen..” What do the reactions of her largely left-biased colleagues have to do with anything? Who cares whether they were “surprised” or not? I suppose if you work at ABC, you’re not surprised when they or one of your colleagues show a complete absence of basic ethical instincts and principles, since it is business as usual—so what?
- “…by the Commission on Presidential Debates for this assignment.” If it didn’t know about this connection between Raddatz and Obama, the Commission did an incompetent job of vetting moderator candidates. If it did know, and chose a conflicted moderator anyway, it did a disgraceful job.
- Barack Obama was a law school classmate of Raddatz’s ex-husband Julius Genachowski at Harvard. At the time Barack Obama was a student and president of the Law Review. He attended their wedding over two decades ago along with nearly the entire Law Review, many of whom went on to successful careers including some in the Bush administration. Raddatz and Mr. Genachowski divorced in 1997 and both are now remarried.” Irrelevant, irrelevant, irrelevant! This is a textbook appearance of impropriety situation. If you have to explain why an apparent conflict isn’t one, than it is one, as far as perceptions are concerned. How do we know that because they aren’t married, Raddatz and Genachowski’s lives aren’t still connected? Is he paying her financial support? Is she paying him? What happens if he loses his job with a Romney win? Are they still friends? Close friends? Friends with benefits? The public not only shouldn’t have to speculate on such matters, it must not.
Is ABC really this stupid, or does it just think we are?
It is in the vital interests of both parties, all candidates, the public, the integrity of the debate process and the elections themselves that the moderators of all the debates have no conceivable conflicts or apparent loyalties to one ticket or the other. This is beyond argument. It is Ethics for Dummies.
Candidate Biden and Candidate Ryan, and their parties, should insist that Raddatz be replaced.
Facts: Daily Caller