Vox Asks Why CNN's “Nonwhite” Moderators “Were Expected To Ask 'Ethnic' Questions First” During Democratic Debate

Vox highlighted how CNN's “nonwhite” moderators, Don Lemon and CNN en Español's Juan Carlos López, were given limited opportunities “to ask questions” during the Democratic presidential debate, and “were expected to ask 'ethnic' questions first.”

CNN hosted the first Democratic presidential debate on October 13 and is receiving media criticism for its limited representation of ethnic groups and minorities. Though the network included Don Lemon and Juan Carlos López -- two moderators of color -- they were tasked with introducing or asking the race-related and immigration questions in the limited air time they received. 

In an October 14 article, Vox's Dara Lind highlighted how “The only two nonwhite people who participated in the debate were CNN anchor Don Lemon and CNN Español's Juan Carlos Lopez” and that “even though both Lemon and Lopez weren't just limited to 'ethnic' questions, the debate gave the impression that that was their primary role.” This is because, as Lind noted, although “CNN apparently wanted to be sure to address issues it thought were particularly relevant to black and Latino voters, and to have black and Latino people do it,” the network “simply didn't give black and Latino people many chances to ask questions, period” :

The only two nonwhite people who participated in the debate were CNN anchor Don Lemon and CNN Español's Juan Carlos Lopez. Lemon didn't even ask questions himself -- he introduced video clips from young people. As a result, the majority of screen time occupied by nonwhite people asking questions were on issues that are supposed to be of interest to their particular ethnic groups.

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Lemon and Lopez were the only representatives of that half of the Democratic Party. But they got way less than half the speaking time. They were both supporting players to Cooper. At least Lopez got to ask his own questions, or questions that appeared to be his own; Lemon was tasked with mediating between the candidates and the questions of “young people.” (Of course, the fact that the only “young person” who was visibly nonwhite was the one who asked about Black Lives Matter raises its own questions about what issues CNN thinks are important to young people.)

So it's not surprising that, even though both Lemon and Lopez weren't just limited to “ethnic” questions, the debate gave the impression that that was their primary role. CNN apparently wanted to be sure to address issues it thought were particularly relevant to black and Latino voters, and to have black and Latino people do it. But CNN simply didn't give black and Latino people many chances to ask questions, period. So the “ethnic issues” questions were forced to occupy precious slots.

The result isn't exactly tokenization: CNN didn't appear to be bringing in Lemon and Lopez just to address black and Latino issues, respectively. But in its effects, it looks a lot like that. At least some of the CNN debate moderators were aware that the Democratic Party is a lot more diverse than they were. It wouldn't have been that hard to give the nonwhite moderators more time -- and with more time, they could have asked more questions that weren't about the issues “people like them” are assumed to care about.

The media often treats Latinos as a constituency only concerned with immigration, despite the fact that they consistently rank other issues as just as important to them.