Women Journalists 'Break New Ground' at the Newseum

October 23, 2012
Location: Walter and Leonore Annenberg Theater

Guests: Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill and Candy Crowley

By Sharon Shahid, online managing editor

WASHINGTON — In hindsight of the criticism she received from some conservatives about how she handled the topic of Libya during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Candy Crowley said she wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“I wish I had been just a tiny bit more articulate” in the exchange with Gov. Mitt Romney, she said. “In all the clapping, people missed the totality of what was going on.”

Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent and anchor of “State of the Union With Candy Crowley,” described the experience as “such an organic kind of thing where you’re reacting in the moment.”

Crowley was the first woman since 1992 to moderate a presidential debate. She, along with PBS’s Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, were at the Newseum Oct. 23 as featured guests in “Campaign 2012 Coverage: Breaking New Ground,” a program cosponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center and moderated by Newseum CEO Jim Duff.

This year Ifill, moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week,” and Woodruff, senior correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” became the first all-female team to anchor network coverage of the political conventions.

“I’d like to think we were chosen because we have lots of experience,” Woodruff said about women’s roles in the 2012 vice presidential and presidential debates, as well as the conventions.

Ifill, who moderated the vice presidential debates during the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, defended Crowley’s actions during the second debate.

“The secret is not that you interjected, it’s that you had it right when you interjected,” she said.

Crowley said the exchanges between President Barack Obama and Romney were “less hot on the stage than it appeared on TV. TV heats things up. I didn’t get the hatred that everybody thought they saw,” she said.

Crowley said she liked the town hall format and enjoyed being moderator. But “the tension leading up to it is so awful.”

Ifill said she prepared for the vice presidential debates in 2004 and 2008 by shutting herself in her house and reading as many of the candidates’ books and stump speeches as possible.

“In the end, [the debate] is just a conversation,” she said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

Timekeepers, not the moderators, control the clock to ensure the candidates stay within their allotted minutes, the journalists said. 

“If the candidates come to the debate with every intention of ignoring the rules they, themselves, have agreed to, there’s very little that a moderator can do except look steamrollered by it,” Ifill said. "The goal is to try to get as much information as possible into the hands of the American public."

“The moderator is there to bring the candidates out on the most important issues and when appropriate, to probe when you feel they are not answering the question,” said Woodruff.

Woodruff, who is also a Newseum trustee, said that although the debate formats could allow more flexibility, they're “better today than back in the day when it was much stricter.”

The journalists said the public should “fasten their seatbelts” during the final two weeks of the campaign and expect the candidates to rev up their bases and get them enthusiastic about going to the polls.

Woodruff looks forward to election night.

“I get this tingle up and down my back, and I get teary when I think about we are one of the very few places on the planet where we can change our leadership without firing a gun or without a drop of blood.”

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