Former intern to Joe Biden will moderate second presidential debate

C-SPAN political editor Steve Scully also worked in Sen. Ted Kennedy's media affairs office.

Published: October 1, 2020 3:52pm

Updated: October 2, 2020 9:03am

With the chaos and turmoil of the first presidential debate still ringing across America, all eyes are turning to Debate No. 2.

The second head-to-head battle, a town-hall debate, will be held Oct. 15 and moderated by C-SPAN'’s Steve Scully. Here's an interesting tidbit sure to stir up some controversy: Scully once worked as an intern for then-Sen. Joe Biden.

"Scully received an undergraduate degree with honors in communication and political science from American University in Washington, D.C.," his Wikipedia entry says. "During his degree he completed a study abroad program at the University of Copenhagen, served as an intern with Senator Joe Biden, and in Sen. Ted Kennedy's media affairs office."

Scully, who has been responsible for coordinating all aspects of C-SPAN's campaign programming since 1991, is widely regarded as a fair and balanced journalist. He has served as a host of "Washington Journal," a live three-hour news and public affairs program that cycles between Republican, Democratic and independent phone callers.

He has also served as a past president of the White House Correspondents' Association (WHCA) and currently serves as a WHCA board member. 

The moderator of the first debate, Fox News' Chris Wallace, came under intense fire as conservatives criticized him for interrupting President Trump more often than Biden. Even his own colleagues ripped him. "Trump is debating the moderator and Biden," Laura Ingraham, host of "The Ingraham Angle," wrote on Twitter after the debate. "Biden seems to interrupt with impunity."

In another Twitter post, since deleted, "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade took aim at Wallace, saying it "looks like 2 V 1." Kilmeade also asked in a second tweet why Biden was "allowed to interrupt" while Trump was not.

So Scully's got his job cut out for him when he tries to guide the next debate, especially after the unruliness of the first faceoff.

But Scully seems up to the task. Back in 2004, Scully talked about his life as a journalist in an interview with Journalism Jobs.

"I think C-SPAN is one of the truest forms of journalism," Scully said. "We keep careful track of who we cover, how much we cover, and what issues we cover. We're able to make strong decisions on what has editorial merit, not what's going to draw more attention."

"Has the quality of broadcast journalism decreased over the past five years?" he was asked.

"It's changed. When I grew up, you used to have a lot of documentaries that appeared on the broadcast networks. They don't do that anymore," Scully said. "I think what has gone downhill is when cable networks get caught in all the titillating news of the day when they should be focusing more on the things that are important to people, like following the money and the state of the nation."

"Are journalists showing their colors more when they're just supposed to be neutral observers?" his interviewer asked.

"We are seeing more opinionated journalism on Fox, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, the whole incident with Dan Rather," he said, referring to the former CBS anchor who resigned in disgrace. "Because they've become celebrities and because they make so much money and are in our homes, that's the evolution of where we are today in the media environment."

"What will be the long-term impact on the credibility of journalists if the public's perceived bias in reporting goes unchecked?" Scully was asked.

"Journalism in general will face more credibility blows," Scully replied. "The most important thing you have is your reputation. How people view you and the organization you work at — they're going to see things through the prism of that. If you want to make sure people pay attention to what you say, you have to make sure that you go out of your way to be truly fair and balanced, and not just to say it as a slogan for a cable network, a newspaper or whatever ... We're aware of it here. If we don't cover all sides of an issue, our audience is going to say, 'Hey, wait a minute C-SPAN. You're only covering the Democratic point of view, or the Republican point of view.'"

Discussing the upcoming debate, Scully recently said he expects it to be similar to his "Washington Journal," joking he'll miss his mute button. "The only difference is that I have the ability to hit the mute button, so I'm able to do that on the Washington Journal, not so much in a debate," Scully told Erie News Now.

The Commission on Presidential Debates on Wednesday announced that the next matchups will feature a new format, saying details would be released soon.

"Last night's debate made clear that additional structure should be added to the format of the remaining debates to ensure a more orderly discussion of the issues," the group said in a statement. "The CPD will be carefully considering the changes that it will adopt and will announce those measures shortly."

Biden on Wednesday offered an idea while on the campaign trail in Ohio: "I just hope there's a way in which the debate commission can control the ability of us to answer the question without interruption. I'm not going to speculate on what happens in the second or third debate.

"My hope is that they're able to literally say, 'The question gets asked of Trump, here's the microphone, he has two minutes to answer the question, no one else has the microphone.' I don't know what the actual rules are going to be literally, but that to me seems to me to make some sense."

The second presidential debate will take the form of a town meeting, in which the questions will be posed by citizens from the South Florida area. The candidates will have two minutes to respond to each question, and there will be an additional minute for the moderator to facilitate further discussion. The town meeting participants will be uncommitted voters selected under the supervision of Dr. Frank Newport, senior scientist for Gallup.

"I think you often get the very best questions from regular folks who have issues on their mind and they tend to be much more issue oriented questions than what we would say — inside the Beltway questions — which is good, which is important," Scully told Erie News Now.

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