The second presidential debate will be moderated by two veteran journalists who are old hands at the high-stakes format: CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz.
Cooper is something of a household name to most cable news junkies at this point. An anchor on CNN for more than a decade, he moderated many of the debates during the 2016 presidential primaries, as well as many of the town halls featuring one-on-one interviews with the candidates.
But it’s Raddatz who could prove the referee more likely to end up in the spotlight. Deeply versed in foreign policy, Raddatz made headlines earlier this year for challenging Hillary Clinton during one of the Democratic debates over her plans to combat ISIS and al-Qaeda.
The vice presidential debate last week was moderator by a relative newcomer, Elaine Quijano, and her performance was greeted by a chorus of complaints. Come Sunday night’s debate, there will be no shortage of reportorial firepower and experience going into the debate. (See this post from Vox’s Tara Golshan for a live stream of the debate.)
The second presidential debate format is unusual — half the questions will come from undecided voters in the audience, and the other half will be chosen by the moderators from a list of questions submitted by readers. (Readers get to submit potential questions online, and then the moderators will pick from a list of 30 that get the most votes from the public.) The moderators will get to ask follow-ups, but there’s already been rumored fights between the two networks over which journalist will get to ask the toughest questions.
Anderson Cooper: a short primer
Cooper seems unlikely to be unnerved by the glare of the bright lights: His experience on the national stage goes all the way back to 1970, when he was just 3 years old. (Cooper appeared as a guest on the Today show with his mom, famed fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt.)
Cooper’s career from adolescence is more or less a straight line to the upper echelons of the journalism world — Yale University, a correspondent for ABC News, and then the jump to anchor a primetime show on CNN.
Before the commission on presidential debates announced the moderators, Donald Trump was already complaining that he thought it would be unfair for Cooper to be picked.
“I'm not okay with Anderson Cooper because I think he treats me very unfairly at CNN," Trump said last month, according to Media Matters. “I think CNN, they call it the Clinton News Network that's why the ratings aren't doing very well.”
Forget that CNN has hired surrogates to basically vouch for Trump exclusively, or that a paid Trump staffer is a regular commentator on the network. The reality is that Cooper is much less likely to be directly combative with Trump than some other journalists.
As the Washington Post’s Callum Borchers noted, Cooper has expressed admiration for Phil Donahue’s “hands-off” approach as a debate moderator in 1992:
On Tuesday, Cooper recalled the way Donahue made himself practically invisible in a debate between Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown.
"You opened it up, and I don't remember your exact words, but you were like 'Okay, gentlemen, talk,' " Cooper said. "And you stepped back, and I don't think you said anything for the next 45 minutes or something."
Later, Cooper added this: "Lester Holt has been — some have criticized him for not being enough of a traffic cop, for not stopping Donald Trump from interrupting. I think there is a value in stepping back. You don't want it to be about you. You want it to be a discussion about the two, and if one is interrupting the other, that tells the audience something, and people can make up their own minds about what exactly that means.”
So Cooper doesn’t think it’s the moderator’s role to feud too directly with the candidates. The approach couldn’t stand in starker contrast to what we’ve seen from his co-moderator.
Martha Raddatz: a short primer
Raddatz, the chief global affairs correspondent for ABC News, was also tapped to be the co-anchor of ABC’s This Week earlier this year.
But her career stretches back well before that — from when she dropped out of the University of Utah to work at a local television station to when she covered the Pentagon for ABC in the mid-1990s, plus more than two dozen reporting trips to Iraq to cover the war, according to Cosmopolitan.
She’s got the stories to prove it. Here’s Raddatz telling the Wrap about her time reporting from Afghanistan:
She says the “most dangerous” thing she’s ever done was cross a river near Jalalabad, a city in eastern Afghanistan, on a homemade raft that was constructed with wooden boards and a half-inflated tube.
“My guide was an eight-year-old boy,” Raddatz said. “We went up to Jalalabad and it wasn’t exactly calm. We walked around where Osama bin Laden once lived and the only way to get there was crossing this river.”
Raddatz’s breakthrough moment this campaign season came in December 2015, when she pressed Clinton for details on her proposal to implement a “no-fly zone” over Syria. The New Yorker runs down the exchange:
ABC’s Martha Raddatz tried to pin down Clinton’s advocacy of a no-fly zone in Syria. “ISIS doesn’t have aircraft, Al Qaeda doesn’t have aircraft,” Raddatz pointed out.
“So would you shoot down a Syrian military aircraft or a Russian airplane?” Clinton’s reply was that “I do not think it would come to that. We are already de-conflicting air space.” When Raddatz persisted — “But isn’t that a decision you should make now?” — Clinton said that she favored the no-fly zone “because I think it would help us on the ground to protect Syrians.”
Raddatz has cemented her image as a tough, policy-oriented reporter on the campaign trail since, recently pressing Tim Kaine over Clinton’s emails at length in an interview. It’ll be something to watch for as Trump and Clinton square off again.