Moderator Martha Raddatz wins Veep debate

October 12, 2012

Forget Joe Biden and Paul Ryan. The real winner on Thursday night? Martha Raddatz.

Raddatz nailed the role of a tough, savvy moderator in a clashing vice-presidential debate between two men who knew they had to fight for their respective parties. She didn’t let Biden or Ryan run roughshod over her, and she let it be known off the bat that she knew as much — or more — about foreign affairs and domestic issues as they did.

Martha Raddatz (ABC News)

Female journalists and wannabe girl reporters immediately had a new geek role model. Even at 59, the seasoned ABC reporter seemed like a fresh face on the political scene, a pleasant respite from the same-old pundits and go-to moderators.

Raddatz was all business and little nonsense as she maneuvered the tsunami of words spewing from Biden and Ryan. She didn’t play by the rules asked by the Romney camp that she refer to Ryan as “mister” instead of “congressman.” She called him “Congressman Ryan” from the get-go, and the men knew immediately they were on her turf, not the other way around.

When Raddatz opened abruptly with a question about Libya, you knew she was going to play hardball better than Chris Matthews and knew her topic as if she were briefed by Hillary Clinton.

That’s because Raddatz knew her subject matter.

Her bio on ABC’s Web site is filled with accomplishments and adventures. “In 2011 she reported exclusive details on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. That same year she had an exclusive interview on the USS Kearsage off the coast of Libya with the Marines who helped rescue two American pilots who had gone down in Libya. In 2012, Raddatz was on a USS destroyer as it made its way through the Strait of Hormuz.”

Raddatz, who joined ABC in 1999 as its State Department correspondent, has traveled the globe, covering wars, conflicts and terrorism. The author of a 2007 book “The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family,” she’s a modern day Martha Gellhorn, the kind of journalist that little girls read about in history books and dream of becoming.

And to think Raddatz, who has also covered the White House, was almost not a debate moderator at all.

As She The People editor Melinda Henneberger reported, conservatives did not want Raddatz as a moderator because Barack Obama attended her 1991 wedding to Julius Genachowski, who now runs the Federal Communications Commission. But they divorced 15 years ago. Conservative columnists wrote stories that Raddatz was likely to be biased because of this long-ago connection to Obama. But they were probably really worried about her ability as a debate inquisitor and controller.

Raddatz didn’t shy away from the prickly abortion issue, which many women wanted discussed. Instead of directly asking whether Biden and Ryan were pro-life or pro-choice, Raddatz framed the subject in the prism of religion, which later drew fire from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell who said the question of religion had no business in government.

But the question, which wasn’t even a question, was brilliant.

“We have two Catholic candidates — first time on a stage such as this — and I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion,” Raddatz said. “Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that.”

What a tricky way to shift from Syria to sex, Martha Raddatz.

There may not be many undecided voters left to woo before Election Day, but one thing became decidedly clear on Thursday night: We need more Raddatzes to ask the tough questions.

Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.

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