NEW YORK (AP) — The day before the vice presidential debate the guest list for moderator Martha Raddatz’s 1991 wedding has become an issue, of sorts.
The list included Harvard Law School student and future president Barack Obama. The groom was Julius Genachowski, the current Federal Communications Commission chairman. And The Daily Caller website wanted to know if the connections 21 years ago raise the question of bias going into Thursday’s debate.
Raddatz’s employer, ABC News, called the issue “silly” and sought to beat the website to the punch by confirming that Obama attended the wedding 21 years ago. The couple divorced in 1997.
Raddatz, ABC’s senior foreign affairs correspondent, was chosen this summer by the Commission on Presidential Debates to moderate the debate between Democratic Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. She has been with ABC News for more than 13 years and wrote “The Long Road Home – A Story of War and Family.”
In the early 1990s, Raddatz was a reporter for ABC’s local station in Boston. Law school student Genachowski worked at the Harvard Law Review, where Obama was president, and the couple invited much of the review’s staff to their wedding, ABC said. The guest list also included Bradford Berenson, a future counsel in George W. Bush’s administration.
The Daily Caller wrote in August about the marriage, under the headline “Marital, personal ties link Obama administration to Commission on Presidential Debates.” A reporter from The Daily Caller on Monday asked ABC for confirmation that Obama was at the wedding.
The next day, before The Daily Caller wrote another story, ABC News sent a statement to the Huffington Post, Politico and The Daily Beast saying Obama had been at the wedding. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said he was concerned the website was “trying to assassinate Martha’s character.”
“Instead of dealing with some silly story three hours before the debate, we wanted to deal with some silly story two days before the debate,” Schneider said.
The news went through the partisan ringer. The Huffington Post headlined a short piece on the issue: “ABC News pushes back at Daily Caller for Martha Raddatz bias accusation.” The Daily Caller’s story on Wednesday had the headline: “ABC News scrambles to downplay Obama’s attendance at VP debate moderator’s wedding.”
The story led the Drudge Report website on Wednesday afternoon.
Robert Steele, a professor at DePauw University and expert in media ethics, said he believes the issue is a “red herring” and distraction from important topics to be brought up in the vice presidential debate. In short, Steele said, he didn’t see any issue.
He compared the circumstances to a reporter in Washington having lunch or playing golf with someone who later goes on to a top political position. It would be different if Raddatz were still married to Genechowski, Steele said, noting that Raddatz did some speaking engagements at the Poynter Institute when Steele worked there.
“I don’t see any substance to the argument that there is a conflict of interest,” he said.
But Steele said that Raddatz should have made Obama’s wedding attendance known to the debate commission before she was selected to moderate the debate.
The commission did not know about the wedding connection ahead of time but, even if it had, it would not have made a difference in Raddatz’s selection, commission Executive Director Janet Brown said.
An email and phone call to The Daily Caller and its founder, Tucker Carlson, were not immediately returned.