Elaine Quijano will make history Tuesday night at the vice presidential debate in more ways than one. Quijano, a Filipino-American, will be the first Asian American to moderate a national debate in a general election. As an anchor for CBSN, the digital streaming branch of CBS News, she will also be the first digital news journalist to host a debate. To top it off, at 42 Quijano will be the youngest journalist to moderate a national debate since Judy Woodruff in 1988, according to Variety.
The Commission on Presidential Debates announced on its website that Quijano would moderate the vice presidential debate between Mike Pence and Tim Kaine at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Prior to joining CBS, she worked for CNN as a correspondent based in Washington, D.C. She honed her chops working as a general assignment reporter for WFTS-TV in Tampa, Florida, and as a reporter, producer and anchor for WCIA-TV in Champaign, Illinois. Quijano has a degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to her biography on CBS News’ website. Quijano also contributes as a correspondent for CBS News.
The inclusion of Quijano as a debate moderator marks another milestone in a year that has seen more diversity in political journalism than past years combined. The selections for this year’s moderators include two women, Martha Raddatz and Quijano, an African American, Lester Holt, and an openly gay man, Anderson Cooper. The American Society of News Editor’s published a survey showing that in 2016, 11 percent of the average newsroom’s workforce was comprised of minorities.
Despite progressive inclusion in an area previously dominated by white males, there has been continuing backlash over the lack of diversity in political journalism, with some questioning why Quijano is relegated to the vice presidential debate instead of the grander stage of one of the presidential debates.
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists published a statement expressing disappointment that the Commission on Presidential Debates “has once again failed to select a Hispanic journalist as a moderator of the 2016 general election and vice presidential debates.” The advocacy and professional group said it will “continue to advocate and speak for our communities our journalists cover across the country and the unique and crucial perspective we bring to the debates and 2016 elections.”
CNN also experienced backlash after the Democratic primary debate in October 2015, when critics said journalists of color were only allowed to ask race-related questions, such as about immigration reform and police reform.