Unethical Quote of the Month: Peter Eyre, Presidential Debate Commission Adviser

“We selected Martha Raddatz because she is a terrific journalist and will be a terrific moderator and we’re thrilled to have her. The notion that that somehow affects her ability is not something we have given a moment’s thought to.”

Peter Eyre, advisor to the Presidential Debate Commission, in a statement to USA TODAY. He was referring to the revealed conflict of interest that calls into question the appropriateness of ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz being chosen as moderator for tonight’s Vice-Presidential Candidates Debate despite the President having attended her wedding and the fact that her former husband was an OBAMA donor and is a high-ranking member of the administration himself.

Let me make this as unequivocal as possible: Eyre’s statement is ignorant, arrogant, incompetent, and disgusting. And, of course, unethical.

He is saying that he and the members of the Commission don’t care about the appearance of impropriety regarding the choice of an individual who may have  influence over the results of the 2012 election, which means that either they don’t care about the credibility and integrity of the process and how it is perceived by the American public, or that they are completely, utterly uneducated on the basic principles of ethics. In either case, it is an admission that the Commission itself had wretched judgment and cannot be trusted.

His comment, to be blunt, is cretinous. Ohh, she’s really good, see, so we don’t get this all this conflict of interest stuff! What an astoundingly stupid thing to say.

Justice Kagan has had to recuse herself from a slew of Supreme Court decisions because her objectivity, as a former member of the Obama Administration, was called into question by legitimate conflict of interest questions. How qualified she may or may not be as a Justice has nothing whatsoever to do with the decision to recuse, nor is it relevant that she may well do “a terrific job” deciding a case where she appears to have an interest. If Raddatz appears to be throwing barbed questions at Rep. Ryan while making easy tosses to the Vice-President, it may be because she made a mistake, or because pundits are unfairly comparing the questions, or because her idea of what constitutes tough questions is different from mine, or because she’s a good reporter but a lousy moderator. But the one thought that must not legitimately creep into any rational viewer’s head is, “Oh, she’s trying to help Biden because she doesn’t want her former husband to lose his job.” That is the problem of the appearance of impropriety, and why it is crucial to deal with it; it is real, it is serious, and it is blindingly relevant in this instance.

But, hey, Martha’s great, so we don’t really give a crap about any of that ethics stuff! How professional. How trustworthy. How sickening.

And let me emphasize this: I believe that the Obama team is just as foolish as the Romney team for permitting this. If Biden mops the floor with Ryan with the help of a “Kitty Dukakis” question from Raddatz that throws the GOP candidate off his game, it shouldn’t want any accusations of collusion or bias to be even conceivable. Not only that, but if Martha really is as fair and ethical as everyone is presuming (and she isn’t, because if she was, she would have recused herself), she may try to make certain that she gives Ryan every consideration, in effect favoring him. This is the reason bias is so important–even when one is trying to adjust for it, it can warp objectivity.

Now, thanks to the choice of Raddatz and, before her in 2008, Gwen Ifill and George Stephanopoulos, we have strong precedent against paying any attention to the appearance of bias and conflicts in the choice of debate moderators. Naturally, all the questions involve journalists with prior and current connections to the Democratic Party and its candidate. The entire mainstream media coverage of the Obama Presidency and both campaigns have the appearance of impropriety.

Who cares?


Source: USA Today

9 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Month: Peter Eyre, Presidential Debate Commission Adviser

  1. Why do the moderators have to be journalists in the first place? Especially in the current field of journalists, this seems to be a really bad idea. There must be others who are qualified.

    • (1) The moderator is in front of a camera
      (2) The moderator reads stuff that is put in front of them
      (3) The moderator gets to ask questions to politicians
      (4) The moderator can influence the election by making their favorite candidate look good and the candidate they don’t like look bad.

      See, it is just like ‘journalism’!

  2. Jack, your enthusiasm for this subject got the best of you and you conflated some weddings. When you wrote “despite having attended President Obama’s wedding” shouldn’t it have said Obama attended her wedding?

    It doesn’t change the thrust of your position but facts are important.

    • Nothing to do with enthusiasm…in the original post on this topic yesterday, I had it right. Just a careless mistake, because I’m on the road and trying to type in a closet. Thanks for flagging it.

  3. I think you’re blowing this out of proportion. The appearance of impartiality isn’t as important when actual impartiality cannot be hidden. Justice Kagan may announce her verdicts in public, but the process by which she reaches them takes place in the privacy of her chambers and her own head, so we need assurances that she will be unbiased since we cannot directly see her working. On the other hand, everything a debate moderator does is, by definition, done in public where we can see it. Raddatz may dislike one of the candidates, but if she treats him unfairly, it will happen with everyone watching.

    • How will they know? The press isn’t going to report it. Will the people actually know? How many people thought Clint Eastwood went on a ‘senior moment’ senile rant at the Republican National Convention because that is what was reported? How many people will actually know if she throws softballs to Biden and tough questions to Ryan? If she interrupts Ryan and berates him, will people know it is because she is biased, or will they think he was misbehaving at the debates? How much of what people in authority do are judgement calls? Judges, moderators, and teachers all make decisions based on a series of factors. They are not computers, they make decisions based on their judgment and their prejudices. If you intentionally put a biased person in a position to make biased judgment calls, that is insane. Would you let a judge who was a member of the KKK decide on the last appeal of a black man on death row even if he was a ‘consummate professional’? What if everybody was watching? Do you think he couldn’t find a legally defensible rationale for denying the appeal? Do you doubt that a sympathetic judge couldn’t find an equally defensible rationale for allowing it?

      If the debate matters, impartiality of the moderator matters. If the impartiality of the moderator doesn’t matter, then we shouldn’t even have these debates. If this debate is actually supposed to be worth something, then having a partisan hack as the ‘moderator’ ready to support the ‘right’ side and sabotage the ‘wrong’ side is a disgrace. It is just as much a disgrace as the high school teacher that told the class to make fun of a student for wearing a Romney t-shirt (link below). Only someone who does not believe that more than one party should be allowed to exist in this country could hold such an outrageous opinion. When it is widely held that only one view is correct and that differing views don’t matter or aren’t valid, then democracy is lost. Freedom is lost.


  4. Watching the debate…..Bias is putting it mildly!!! This is sickening! I am almost as disgusted by Martha as I am about Biden!!!!! This isn’t even a civilized debate!!! Guess Martha will be having a beer afterwards with her buddys Biden & Obama……….

    • Yeah, I watched as much of it as I could stand – then switched to baseball.

      I want machines to take over more power in these so-called debates. I want the only microphone that stays live for the whole event to be the moderator’s, and I want that microphone wired to automatically cut off all other microphones at any moment the moderator is speaking. I want only one debater’s microphone on at any one time. I want a countdown timer before the eyes of each jabberer (er, debater), tied to the on-off status of each debater’s microphone, also projected as a graphic for all viewers on the TV screen. The moderator can control the start switch on the countdown timer. I strongly prefer a moderator not to interrupt any debater, and I absolutely do not want any debater to be able to interrupt any other debater.

      And when that timer hits zero, I want that microphone automatically switched off, and that debater to shut up, or BE shut-up. No bells or grace periods. Cut ’em off in mid-jabber, and let the world wonder what nuggets it missed. If you can’t say your piece in the time you’re allotted, then you can’t manage effectively in the job you’re seeking, either. Sure: we’d all love to have as much time as we can seize, to impress our job interviewers. But that time is not ours, the candidates’; it’s the interviewer’s time, and candidates are entitled to NONE of it.

      I don’t want split-screen views of multiple persons; I don’t want to see the reactions of a non-speaker while another is speaking. Let no one else but the live audience (if there is one; that’s another thing I would like to see cut out) suffer temptation to be distracted by others while one speaks. I honestly don’t know what to do about closed captions and sign language; I just don’t want either to be a distraction for, or from, any one debater. I don’t know…maybe it would be best if the debates were just banned from TV and streamed as audio only on radio and the www. There are plenty of opportunities for “optics” elsewhere that need not be part of a debate.

      I want to hear ideas, not compare neckties. I want to hear rational arguments, not a meandering interruption-fest. I want to hear voices; if a voice motivates me to seek the face of the speaker, I can always look up the face later. I don’t want “town hall” theater; I don’t want trash-talking in third person. I want to hear a candidate speaking as one-to-one to ME.

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