Presidential Election Coverage: Martha Raddatz

October 5, 2012 — Martha Raddatz is the Senior Foreign Affairs correspondent for ABC News. She has spent decades covering politics and foreign policy focusing on conflicts in the Middle East. Raddatz has traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan dozens of times and to Iraq 21 times, which makes her an expert on these regions.

Raddatz covered the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections for the ABC News Boston affiliate, WCVB-TV, and subsequently moved on to cover the Pentagon and the White House. Raddatz joined ABC News in 1999 as the network’s State Department correspondent. She was named Senior Foreign Affairs correspondent in November 2008, after serving as White House correspondent during the last term of President George W. Bush’s administration.

Raddatz’s outstanding journalistic work has been honored with several awards, including the 2007 Merriman Smith Memorial Award for Excellence in Presidential News Coverage. Her Washington experience and her reputation as a fair, fact-oriented reporter has earned her the seat at the moderator table in this year’s Vice Presidential Debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan on October 11, 2012.

IWMF: Which aspect of the 2012 presidential election do you find most interesting?

Raddatz: I think the debated issues of this presidential election are much more profound and personal than they used to be. The debate is very focused on the economy and how people are feeling about their own futures. The decision voters are facing is not just about which candidate they like better, it’s about survival – “how am I going to survive? How is my neighbor who doesn’t have a job going to survive?” As someone who has covered foreign policy much of my career, it is fascinating to me how little voters seem to be interested in foreign policy issues. Outside of the President’s foreign policy record, with Osama bin Laden’s death being the most highlighted aspect, there is not a lot of talk about foreign policy. Obviously, people should care about the rest of the world, particularly because we are still at war, but the public is currently more focused on their own survival – and understandably so.

Raddatz moderating the Vice Presidential Debate on October 11, 2012

IWMF: Issues that are of particular interest to women, such as the various aspects of women’s reproductive health, are playing an increasing role in this year’s election campaigns. Is this controversy a step forward because it turns the spotlight on women’s issues, or is it a step backward because some of the debated opinions are perceived as reactionary?

Raddatz: I don’t think the fact that there is discussion about these issues is a step back. It has become clear that, in our lifetime, people are not going to agree on the so-called women’s issues, and I wish they would talk about them as men’s issues too because men need to be discussing them as well. It will continue to divide people because it is a very personal, very emotional topic.

IWMF: How hard do you find it to put your personal political opinion aside and approach the vice-presidential debate with an open mind?

Raddatz: Honestly, it is not hard at all for me to put my personal opinion aside – that is what I do as a journalist. Sure, I am an American and I have thoughts about certain things but I don’t have partisan opinions. There is a lot of chatter, criticism from the left, criticism from the right, you have to tune that out. And I guess it’s a good thing if you get criticized for something or another from either side. I try very hard to not be partisan and I think if you asked any of my colleagues at ABC News, they probably really wouldn’t know where I stand politically.

Raddatz reporting for ABC News from Pakistan

IWMF: Some believe that televised presidential debates do little in changing the outcome of presidential elections while others are convinced that debates do more to sway voters than any of the campaign ads the public, particularly in swing states, is currently getting flooded with. What do you think?

Raddatz: The debates are the calmest, longest, most comprehensive sessions the public can have with the candidates. Will it sway someone? It may or may not. It certainly depends on how the debates go and what the public is looking for from a debate. The debates offer an opportunity for people to find out more about those candidates, who they are, what makes them tick, how they differ. It doesn’t mean the candidates approach it that way, it doesn’t mean the public is going to approach it that way. But I think it’s an opportunity they have nowhere else, not through ads nor at the conventions, to try and highlight their differences. My role is merely to facilitate that and to try and help the American public understand that.

IWMF: Until this year, only one woman has ever moderated a televised presidential debate – and that was 20 years ago. In your opinion, why do women have such a hard time breaking this glass ceiling?

Raddatz: My simple answer is, I don’t know. And probably like most women, I tend to believe that if I wasn’t qualified to do this, hopefully they wouldn’t want me to do this. The moderators they have chosen are all qualified but it’s great to have some diversity. I do think the most wonderful thing about having a woman in any position of prominence, is that it is great mentoring for young women, and it is hopefully also great mentoring for young men to see women in these positions. I just spent a few days with Colonel Leavitt, the first female commander of an Air Force fighter wing. She was the first mission-qualified female fighter pilot. I loved interviewing the younger male pilots and weapons systems officers who worked for Colonel Leavitt. Most of them were about 30 years old, they didn’t know what she went through, they didn’t know how difficult that was for her to do what she does. And that’s really the place where you want to be as a woman. You want young men to not even find it unusual that women hold powerful leadership positions. I covered the Pentagon and the military for a long time when most of my colleagues covering those beats were men. And my approach was never to say: “Let a girl in, I can do it.” I just did my job as well as everyone else and made sure that people didn’t think gender had anything to do with my career success.

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Heike Slansky | Deputy Washington Bureau Chief, ZDF German Television
Nadia Bilbassy-Charters | Chief U.S. Correspondent, MBC TV

Raddatz moderates the Vice Presidential Debate on October 11, 2012

Reporting for ABC News from Pakistan

Reporting from an F15 fighter jet at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan

Flying in an F-15 fighter jet

Raddatz in Iraq

Raddatz and her camera crew in Al Anbar Province, Iraq