John R. Lott, Jr.,
Everyone knows that the Democratic Party won’t let Fox News host its presidential debates. But it is only now becoming clear that Democrats have a political litmus test even for moderators from left-leaning outlets such as Politico.
Politico has requested that chief political correspondent Tim Alberta serve as a moderator during the upcoming Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles on December 19th. Politico is co-sponsoring the event with PBS. But according to NBC News, “Democratic Party officials say such a journalist is ill-suited to co-moderate a debate meant to better inform Democratic voters about their potential nominee.”
Alberta’s sin? He used to write articles for the conservative National Review. (He also has previously held positions at the National Journal, The Hotline, and The Wall Street Journal). But given how many never-Trumpers have worked at the National Review, from David French to Jonah Goldberg, this would hardly seem disqualifying by itself. Editor-in-chief Rich Lowry has not exactly defended President Trump on the Sunday morning national television talk shows.
But what is most shocking is the reaction from “journalists.” NBC News reports that Politico’s request “rankled . . . some journalists at PBS and even Politico.” Why would “journalists” object to including a solitary Republican? Perhaps Democratic voters would value seeing how their candidates can handle questions that might arise during the general election.
Will this set a precedent for Republican presidential primaries? Will people such as George Stephanopoulos, Chuck Todd, Jake Tapper, and others who have worked as staffers for Democratic politicians automatically be banned from serving as moderators during the 2024 race? So far, their past political affiliations haven’t prevented them from moderating debates.
The Republican Party doesn’t just select moderators who will toe the line. And in the 2016 Republican presidential debate on CNBC, the questioning got out of hand. Ted Cruz drew loud applause when he pointed out the political bias in the questions being asked of Republican candidates:
“You know, let me say something at the outset. The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media,” he said to applause. “This is not a cage match. And, you look at the questions — “Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?” “Ben Carson, can you do math?” “John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?” “Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?” “Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?”
One of the debate moderators was John Harwood, who was then the chief Washington Correspondent for CNBC and a contributor for The New York Times. It was later discovered that Harwood had extensive email correspondence with John Podesta, who was chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. In one email, Harwood warned Podesta: “Ben Carson could give you real trouble in a general [election].” This amounts to political advice.
Just look at the softball question that Anderson Cooper posed to Joe Biden about his son’s involvement in the Ukraine: “President Trump has falsely accused your son of doing something wrong while serving on a company board if Ukraine. I want to point out there’s no evidence of wrongdoing by either one of you. If it’s not okay for a president’s family to be involved in foreign businesses, why was it okay for your son when you were Vice President?” Can anyone name a similar question given to a Republican in a presidential debate?
If liberals can object to a Republican asking questions of Democrat candidates, is it OK for conservatives to object to Democrats asking questions of Republican candidates? One can be sure that such a scenario would cause an outcry from these same journalists. They would castigate Republicans for even suggesting that Democrats shouldn’t be allowed to ask questions.
* Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recent of “The War of Guns.”