Moderating History: CNN’s Candy Alt Crowley ’70 leads 2nd presidential debate

Candy Alt Crowley '70 moderates the second 2012 presidential debate.

Candy Alt Crowley ’70 moderates the second 2012 presidential debate.

CNN’s Candy Alt Crowley ’70 leads 2nd presidential debate

WITH TENS OF MILLIONS WATCHING, an undecided voter asked President Barack Obama a question about high gas prices, an issue on many people’s minds during the 2012 presidential election. But in response to that question, the president and his Republican rival Mitt Romney steered the debate toward natural gas, coal, and renewable energy.
mitt_barackThat was when Candy Alt Crowley ’70 stepped in. “Let me just see if I can move you to the gist of this question,” said Candy, who was moderating the second presidential debate in October in Hempstead, New York. “Tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up, and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon.

“Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?”

In October, Candy, a 25-year veteran CNN reporter, became the first woman in 20 years to moderate a presidential debate. For 90 minutes, she managed questions from the audience of undecided voters, pushed the candidates to answer the questions rather than stray to other topics, and ensured that verbal sparring between the candidates did not go too far.

“It was completely amazing. It was certainly something I will take away as a highlight of my career,” Candy said in a recent interview. “But more than that, it was really fun. It was fun to watch them in that particular dynamic because we hadn’t seen them interacting in that way before. I just had a blast.”

Back on Randolph’s campus, students paid close attention to Candy’s performance and felt that she managed the debate better than the other 2012 debate moderators, said Jennifer Gauthier, a communication studies professor who used the presidential election to add relevance to her rhetoric course.

“She allowed the candidates to speak, but also held them to their time limits and maintained order with a firm hand. She also asked follow-up questions and redirected answers when she felt it necessary,” Jennifer said. “My students and I found this refreshing and necessary in light of the close race and the nature of this campaign.”

Born in Michigan and raised in Missouri, Candy applied to many East Coast schools as a way to learn about a new area. At the time, her oldest brother was dating an R-MWC alumna who introduced her to the College.

R-MWC’s curriculum helped Candy strengthen her written and verbal communication, two crucial components of her career. “It is where I developed a love of words,” she said. “You learn how to put words together by studying great wordsmiths.”

Although she majored in English, Candy said her reporting has been influenced by the understanding of history she gained at the College. “I began to connect history with the present and with the future,” she said. “I wish I had taken more history classes because everything I cover now is somehow connected to the past, which in itself is connected to an even further back past.”

Upon graduating, Candy’s goal was to write “the great American novel,” but she also faced the need to earn a living. After first writing for a trade association, she tried her hand at scripting newscasts for a radio station in the Washington, D.C., area. “I loved to write, and this was a place where I could make money and write,” she recalled. “Once I got into it was when I really fell in love with being a journalist.”

Early in her career, men dominated the upper echelons of broadcast journalism. Candy broke that barrier by excelling in her work. “I tell young women all the time, ‘No matter what you choose to do with your life, be so good at it that they can’t ignore you,’” she said. “I would give that same message to young men.”

As CNN’s chief political correspondent and anchor of State of the Union, Candy has interviewed dozens of presidential candidates, former presidents, sitting vice presidents, and other high-ranking political leaders. She never planned to moderate a presidential debate—before 2012, only two women had been invited to moderate a debate between presidential candidates. The last time was in 1992.

That changed on a Thursday in August when Candy received an invitation from the Commission on Presidential Debates.

While Candy enjoyed the experience of the town hall debate, she was frustrated by the lack of time. “Even on a 24-hour network, you lament that you don’t have time. But I’ve never lamented it as much as in that debate,” she said. “There were so many topics that we wanted to use. I wish I would have had five hours.”

The debate was a whirlwind with 11 questions from audience members covering topics ranging from gun control to equal pay for women to tax brackets. As the debate concluded, Candy remarked to one of her colleagues, “Half of the country is going to hate us; I’m not sure which half at this point.”

In the weeks after the debate, some supporters of Romney publicly blamed Candy for intervening as the candidates argued over the way the administration had presented the August attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Her comment pointed out the accurate parts of each candidate’s claims, but some saw it as biased toward the president.

“It comes with the territory,” Candy said of the post- debate criticism. “I didn’t take it personally. Given the nature of politics these days, and given the stakes, I just tried to keep in mind what the stakes were for both of these two men and for their supporters.”

Moderating the presidential debate was a significant addition to Candy’s already-impressive résumé. However, when she looks back on her career, she finds the most personal value in what some would consider much less significant work.

“I could name a bunch of people that you do know and have heard of that I’ve interviewed, but it’s the ones that you’ve never heard of, whom I met in the course of doing stories on disasters and documentaries on all kinds of things, who taught me some amazing things along the way by sharing their lives with me,” Candy said. “I love that part of journalism.

“It’s a fascinating, interesting job where you can grow in your knowledge of the world but also grow in your knowledge of humanity,” she said. “It’s about who we are and how we live, what we believe and why we believe it that has been helping me not just professionally but also personally. That’s amazingly satisfying because that’s the stuff I’ll remember.”

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