Fox News’ Chris Wallace, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully and NBC News’ Kristen Welker will moderate the three presidential debates between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and USA Today’s Susan Page will be at the helm for the vice presidential debate.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan group that has organized the debates since 1988, announced the lineup on Wednesday.
Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday, will moderate the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic. He also moderated a presidential debate in 2016. The format will be more traditional, with nine segments of 10 minutes each. The moderator will pose an opening question and the candidates will have two minutes to respond. Then there will be a longer discussion of the segment topic.
Scully, the senior executive producer and political editor at C-SPAN Networks, will moderate the event on Oct. 15, to be held at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. The format will be that of a town meeting, with questions posed by uncommitted voters from the South Florida area.
Welker, co-anchor of Weekend Today and White House correspondent for NBC News, will moderate the Oct. 22 debate at Belmont University in Nashville. The format will be the same as the first debate.
Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today, will moderate the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Kamala Harris.
The debates are one of the highest profile and pressure filled assignments for journalists, given the size of the audience. The first debate in 2016 drew 84 million viewers, according to Nielsen, while the second drew 66.5 million and the third 71.6 million.
The debates will run from 9 PM ET to 10:30 PM ET on each of the nights, without commercial breaks, and across all networks that choose to carry the feed.
The moderators also will be in charge of selecting their own questions, which will not be known to the candidates or the commission.
Wallace generated praise his interview of Trump for the full hour on Fox News Sunday in July, in part because of real-time fact checking. Biden, however, has not yet appeared on the show despite invites.
Scully served as backup moderator in 2016, but this will be his first debate, as it will be for Welker.
The Trump campaign already weighed in on who it wanted to moderate the debate, and sent the commission a list last month. None of them were selected, and the commission made it clear that it would choose the moderators on their own.
Tim Murtaugh, communications director for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement, “These are not the moderators we would have recommended if the campaign had been allowed to have any input. Some can be identified as clear opponents of President Trump, meaning Joe Biden will actually have a teammate on stage most of the time to help him excuse the radical, leftist agenda he is carrying. One thing is sure: Chris Wallace’s selection ensures that Biden will finally see him face-to-face after dodging his interview requests. That is, if Biden actually shows up.”
On Tuesday, Frank Fahrenkopf, appearing at a National Press Club along with other co-chairs of the debate commission, rejected one suggestion, made by Biden and others, for a real time fact checking scroll on the screen. “There’s a lot of fact checkers, and the minute the debate is over, you can do on any network or any paper the next morning, and they are all going to be there,” Fahrenkopf said.
Alan Schroeder, author of Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, said that the commission’s choices are not a surprise. He wrote via email that it was “very much in keeping with the desire of the Commission on Presidential Debates to make the general election debates as serious and sober as possible.”
He said that the “only potential controversy I see here is Chris Wallace, given Trump’s tendency to tweet negatively about him. But Trump tweets negatively about all journalists, so I hardly see that as disqualifying.”
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