Teens Petition For A Woman To Moderate Fall Debate

Audie Cornish speaks with a high school student who gathered almost 120,000 signatures on a petition she created with two civics classmates. Emma Axelrod of Montclair, N.J., and her friends are asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to select a woman to moderate at least one of this fall's presidential debates. The young women point out in their petition that it's been 20 years since a female moderator has run a presidential debate. They tried to deliver that petition to the Commission in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're nine weeks away from the first of three presidential debates and here's a fact that you might not know. It's been 20 years, 20, since a woman moderated a presidential debate solo.

ROSS PEROT: ...will not see the American dream because of this debt that somebody somewhere dropped on us.

CAROLE SIMPSON: You're all wonderful speakers and I know you have lots more to add, but I've talked to this audience and they have lots of questions on other topics. Can we move to another topic, please? We have one up here, I think.

CORNISH: That's Carole Simpson at the University of Richmond, watching the clock and keeping independent candidate Ross Perot, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton and President George H.W. Bush on topic and in check in 1992. Now, for this year's presidential debates, three high school students want to get a woman back in the moderator's chair. So they started a petition drive and they travelled here to D.C. to deliver the signatures.

Emma Axelrod will be a junior this year at Montclair High School in New Jersey. She told us the effort began in her civics class.

EMMA AXELROD: When we learned that there's been 20 years since a woman moderated, that gap shocked us so much that we almost couldn't believe it. And it seems so doable to just have them pick a woman this election. There is such an abundance of strong, capable, nonpartisan, unbiased female journalists for them to choose from and it seems like a really good place to start and sort of begin to equal out the representation.

CORNISH: So you come up with these petitions. Tell us a little bit about them. How many signatures did you get?

AXELROD: Well, we have two petitions out. The first one, you can reach it at Change.org/debate, is targeted at the Commission on Presidential Debates, asking them for a woman moderator. And there's currently over 116,000 signatures on that one. About a week and a half ago, we let out another petition targeting the Obama and Romney campaigns because they also have a big input on who gets to moderate. And that one has over 53,000 signatures.

CORNISH: So you're coming at this from two angles here and the one I want to ask about is the Commission on Presidential Debates. The executive director is a woman, Janet Brown, and you - did you get to meet with her today? Or who did you deliver your petition to?

AXELROD: Actually, we were not received. We had let them know on Friday that we were planning on coming to deliver the petitions, but they never got back to us. So when we went to deliver our boxes full of the flash drives that have all the signatures on them, we were turned away and we were not allowed to leave our packages there either, in case they contained dangerous material.

CORNISH: So the Commission didn't accept you signatures today. What have you heard from the presidential candidates?

AXELROD: We haven't heard anything yet.

CORNISH: Emma, what's this process like for you? Because you came to this through a civics class and here you are trying to engage the process and it doesn't seem like you're getting anywhere.

It's discouraging not to be listened to, especially as three high school girls trying to make a change in our country for the better, for equal representation of our gender. You know, we put a lot of time into this. One of the petitioners, Alaina Simbaras(ph), is missing volleyball camp to be here. You know, we're really dedicated.

AXELROD: So the lack of response that we're experiencing is a little bit disappointing, especially since so many Americans have backed us up and told the commission and the Obama, Romney campaigns that this is something that matters to them as well. And the debates serve to inform the American people, so their requests should be answered.

CORNISH: Emma, thanks so much.

AXELROD: Thank you so much.

CORNISH: That's high school student Emma Axelrod. We called the Commission on Presidential Debates today to find out if they office would accept the students' petition or if they had any comment. We've heard nothing so far. The executive director Janet Brown did tell CBS News, quote, "we welcome input from anybody.

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