Martha Raddatz on the Hot Seat

When Martha Raddatz opens the vice presidential debate Thursday night, she will bring something very different to the highly touted event.

No, not the fact that she’s a woman. It’s great that the debate commission has finally come into the 21st century by naming two women, Raddatz and CNN’s Candy Crowley, to handle half the fall debates. But what sets Raddatz apart is that she’s a battle-tested correspondent.

Among other things, ABC’s senior foreign affairs correspondent has been to Iraq 21 times and traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan dozens of times. She has also covered the White House and the State Department. Raddatz was the first to report that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq, had been killed in a U.S. airstrike, and reported exclusive details the night that Osama bin Laden was killed.

Most of the debates have been moderated by television anchors and hosts, and they are good at their craft. Folks like Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, Charlie Gibson and Bob Schieffer (who will moderate the third presidential debate this year), stretching back to Carole Simpson and Bernard Shaw. Some had extensive reporting experience, as Crowley does, but they were accustomed to fronting television shows.

Raddatz has been a pure reporter, one who has flown along on combat missions. When questioning Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on foreign affairs—say, the attack on the consulate in Libya—she will know the terrain as well as anyone.

Beat reporters are often overlooked in a television world that bestows the highest degree of fame and the biggest financial rewards on the star performers known as anchors, who tend to be stronger personalities. Raddatz has not put herself in the center of her stories, which is why she’s a fascinating choice.

A few folks on the right have objected to the debate commission’s choice of Raddatz based on something that happened 21 years ago. And the charge is remarkably weak. When Raddatz married her first husband in 1991, he was on the Harvard Law Review. So was Barack Obama. Since law review staffers were invited, Obama, then a mere student, was at her wedding.

What’s more, Raddatz was divorced from Julius Genachowski—later named by Obama to head the Federal Communications Commission—back in 1997, and both are now remarried.

The notion that the chance encounter at a long-ago wedding should disqualify Raddatz seems trivialize the successful career she has had, and an ABC spokesman dismissed the criticism as “absurd.”