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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Published with permission from Media Matters for America.

Donald Trump’s accusations of media bias seem to have paid off as the Commission on Presidential Debates moderator selections for the 2016 presidential debates will include a moderator from Fox News for the first time, but will notably lack Latino representation. Trump had previously warned that he would object to moderators that he considered unfair, and given the selections, it seems that the Republican presidential nominee got his way.

CNN reported on September 2 that the commission has chosen NBC’s Lester Holt, ABC’s Martha Raddatz, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Fox News’ Chris Wallace to be moderators in the three presidential debates, while CBS News’ Elaine Quijano will moderate the debate between vice presidential candidates.

It was previously reported that the commission was struggling to select moderators who wouldn’t be subjected to accusations of bias, a particular problem this election due to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s “aggressive attacks on the media and complaints about unfair treatment.” According to CNN’s Dylan Byers:

The delay is due in part to an unprecedented challenge the bipartisan Commission faces in selecting individuals who are immune (or at least as immune as possible) to accusations of bias. While that is always a concern for the Commission, the sources said it is more challenging than ever this time around due to one factor: Donald Trump.

The last thing the Commission wants is for the moderator to become part of the story about a debate. Yet Trump’s aggressive attacks on the media and complaints about unfair treatment have effectively guaranteed that the moderators will come under scrutiny from conservatives.

This has made the Commission even more cautious than usual in researching potential moderators, sources said. The Commission fears that Trump would use even the slightest whiff of a pro-Clinton bias to attack a moderator and undermine his or her credibility.

With the commission taking into account Trump’s previously levied attacks, it’s not surprising that the commission didn’t include a Latino journalist in their selection of presidential debate moderators. After all, the candidate is on record saying he believes people with Hispanic heritage might not be objective when dealing with him because he has promised to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

The exclusion of a Hispanic moderator comes as a loss for audiences who could’ve gotten the added perspective of someone with unique understanding of the second largest demographic in the country, a value Telemundo’s Maria Celeste Arrarás displayed when moderating the February 25 Republican presidential primary debate. Arrarás pressed the candidates on the nuances of issues that Latinos care most about, spotlighting the value of newsroom diversity.

Trump had also previously hinted at who he thought would be acceptable and unacceptable as debate moderators, noting “he would ‘object to moderators who he considered to be ‘unfair.’” While discussing possible debate moderators Trump claimed that “certain moderators would be unacceptable,” while also noting that NBC’s Lester Holt, who the commission chose, “is a good guy.” .

Another area in which it appears Trump got his way is the commission’s choice of Fox News’ Chris Wallace, marking the first time someone from Fox News had moderated a presidential debate and who some have argued presents a “massive conflict” of interest. Until recently, Wallace reported to Roger Ailes, the oustedhead of Fox News, who is a close adviser to Trump and is reportedly helping him with debate preparation. Wallace “has been fiercely loyal to Ailes,” publicly defending him amid the sexual harassment allegations that led to his resignation, and his Sunday show has received praise from Trump himself.

With the choice to include Wallace and to exclude Latinos, it seems like the commission let Trump dictate the conditions for the debates.

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