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Obama and Romney reject invite to discuss African-American issues

  • Written by Freddie Allen

WASHINGTON – Both President Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican challenger, have rejected an invitation from the NAACP and other black groups to participate in a forum to discuss issues important to African Americans.

In late September, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People invited President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to articulate their plans for the African-American community at a presidential forum planned for October 9 at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the nation's oldest black degree-granting institution.

The NAACP collaborated with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), MSNBC-TV, the Grio, and American Urban Radio Network in preparation for the forum. Veteran, award-winning journalist Lester Holt had agreed to moderate.

Jerry Lopes, president of American Urban Radio Network, said on Monday Oct. 1) that both candidates had declined to appear, citing scheduling conflicts.

NNPA President and CEO Bill Tompkins said forums such as the one proposed by the African-American groups would have given President Obama the opportunity to outline his support for programs that hope to address issues plaguing the African-American community.

"We need to hear that (President Obama is looking out for us, that he cares for us and that he wants us to participate in the great American Dream," Tompkins explained.

Although both major candidates rejected the invitation to address issues important to African-Americans, both found time to sit down with Latino news anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas for a presidential forum that aired last month on Univision, the Spanish-language television network. Romney appeared Sep. 19 and Obama the following day.

Romney carved out 35 minutes for the program and President Barack Obama shared a full hour. The candidates were grilled on topics concerning Latino voters such as immigration, the drug war, and the controversial Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM).

Univision pressured the candidates to attend the forum held at the University of Miami after organizers of the presidential debate denied Univision's request to add a fourth debate with a minority moderator.

Since 1988, only three African-American journalists have moderated debates presented by CPD. CNN's Bernard Shaw moderated the 1988 presidential debate October 13, 1988 between then-Vice President George H.W. Bush and another former Massachusetts governor, Michael Dukakis. That debate was the most watched program that season with 67.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In 1992, ABC anchor Carole Simpson became the first African-American woman to moderate a presidential debate when she took the stage for the contest between then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, President George H. W. Bush and Independent business tycoon Ross Perot. Simpson also holds the record for the highest number of viewers for a presidential debate at 69.9 million.

Shaw returned to the post in 2000 to moderate the vice presidential debate between Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney.

PBS anchor Gwen Ifill moderated the vice presidential debate in 2004 between Vice Cheney and Senator John Edwards (D-N.C.). In 2008, she repeated her performance for the contest between then-Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Black journalists have moderated just four debates, two presidential debates and two vice presidential debates, in 20 years. During the same period, PBS veteran news anchor Jim Lehrer moderated 10 presidential debates, including all three presidential debates in 2000 and one vice presidential debate.

This year, CNN chief political correspondent and host of "State of the Union" Candy Crowley will become the first woman in two decades to moderate a presidential debate.

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