Activists Rip CNN for ‘Major Representation Problem,’ Demand Women of Color Moderators for All Debates

Women’s advocacy groups—National Women’s Law Center, UltraViolet Action, and Higher Heights—on Tuesday criticized CNN for not having a woman of color as a debate moderator and launched a petition demanding that establishment media networks include women of color moderators in all upcoming debates so they do not have a “major representation problem” like CNN.

Democrats will debate in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday and Wednesday, and CNN’s Dana Bash, Jake Tapper, and Don Lemon will moderate both nights.

“That means zero Black women or women of color moderators—again,” the petition . “Today’s voters are more diverse than ever before, and this year’s primaries feature the most diverse group of candidates in modern history. But there’s a clear representation problem when it comes to who sits at the debate moderators’ table.”

The petition also notes that “moderators hold a lot of power over how the debates unfold” and “they determine what questions are asked, which issues are centered, and which candidates get the most air time.” It then asks: “Moderators are supposed to represent voters’ greatest interests and concerns, but how can they do that when they don’t represent a key group of American voters?”

Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder and executive director at UltraViolet Action, said “there’s a clear representation problem when it comes to who sits at the debate moderators’ table” and added that “networks have a responsibility to ensure these important debates are inclusive, relevant, and actually representative of the American people.”

“It’s ridiculous that we’re still fighting to get a Black woman or a woman of color a seat at the moderators’ table,” she added.

Glynda Carr, president and CEO of Higher Heights for America, noted that though Democrats have the “most diverse pool of presidential candidates in our country’s history, including the third Black woman to seek the Democratic nomination,” the debate stage still lacks women of color at the moderator’s table.

“In this election cycle, Black women are demanding our return on our voting investment and our voices be present and heard in setting the vision for our country and policies that affect Black women, our families and communities,” Carr said in a statement. “Black women are claiming our seats and that includes the moderator’s seat.”

Anna Chu, vice president for strategy and policy at the National Women’s Law Center, emphasized that “debate moderators have an important role to play in shaping public perceptions of candidates, so including more women moderators is an important first step for the networks during these debates.”

“But to state the obvious, not all women are white. Black women and other women of color are important and influential members of the electorate as well as society at large,” she added. “The issues that matter most to us, and the people best positioned to hold candidates accountable for speaking to those issues, must be included at the moderator’s table.”

UltraViolet Action put pressure on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) earlier in the year to require a female moderator for each presidential debate, and now they are asking ABC to include a women of color as a moderator for the network’s September presidential debate at Texas Southern University, an HBCU, in Houston.

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