Neither ABC nor the Commission on Presidential Debates would confirm Thursday to The Daily Caller whether they were aware of Martha Raddatz’s personal ties to President Barack Obama before she was chosen to moderate Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.
An investigation by The Daily Caller revealed Wednesday that Obama attended Raddatz’s 1991 wedding to Julius Genachowski, Obama’s close personal friend from the Harvard Law Review whom he later tapped to chair the Federal Communications Commission.
The episode is reminiscent of the controversy that erupted when PBS “Washington Week” host Gwen Ifill moderated the 2008 vice presidential debate despite having a book in the works that praised Obama and despite profiling him in glowing terms for Essence magazine.
On Thursday ABC published an equally glowing online profile of Raddatz titled “Getting to Know ABC News VP Debate Moderator Martha Raddatz.” It fails to mention her personal ties to the president.
“I want people to feel. I want people to question,” ABC quotes Raddatz as saying about her journalistic priorities.
Raddatz, now divorced from Genachowski, is married to NPR journalist Tom Gjetlen. NPR’s federal funding is a target of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s economic blueprint, a fact highlighted Wednesday by the New York Observer’s Politicker blog.
Neither ABC nor the debate commission responded to TheDC’s requests for comment Wednesday about whether they believed Raddatz’s current marriage posed a conflict of interest similar to the one embodied in her previous marriage to Genachowski.
Panelists on “Morning Joe,” a morning television show on the liberal MSNBC network, unanimously agreed Thursday that the information flowing from TheDC’s investigation was relevant information the public should know — a stark contrast from the debate commission’s response Wednesday through USA Today.
“Peter Eyre, an adviser to the non-partisan debate commission, said the organization doesn’t care that Obama attended Raddatz’s wedding more than 20 years ago,” reported USA Today Wednesday following the publication of TheDC’s report.
“We selected Martha Raddatz because she is a terrific journalist and will be a terrific moderator and we’re thrilled to have her,” Eyre said. “The notion that that somehow affects her ability is not something we have given a moment’s thought to.”
The year after Obama attended Raddatz; wedding, Genachowski attended the Obamas’ nuptials. Raddatz, according to ABC, did not attend. The network would not deny, however, that Raddatz was invited to the wedding of the future president and first lady. (RELATED: Genachowski attended Obama’s wedding without wife Raddatz, says ABC)
Raddatz and Genachowski — her second husband — had a son together before they divorced in 1997. The two are now remarried to separate spouses.
Genachowski’s friendship with Obama would continue through the 2008 campaign, throughout Obama’s transition period, and in his administration. He currently serves as Obama’s Federal Communications Commission chairman.
Sources who knew the two men during their days at Harvard Law School confirmed that they were close friends. Raddatz and Genachowski were married before graduation.
Both ABC and the commission declined to comment on the matter when TheDC first investigated in August, keeping from the public any information about Obama’s attendance at Raddatz’ wedding until the eve of the vice presidential debate when TheDC forced their hands.
ABC spokesman David Ford did not respond when The Daily Caller asked Wednesday if he thought the public had a right to know about any connections between Obama and Raddatz. He did, however, suggest that since Raddatz’s marriage to Genachowski’s was already public information, there was no news to report.
Ford also did not return The Daily Caller’s request for comment about why he thought media should be held to a looser set of ethical restrictions than judges who recuse themselves from cases in which they have a conflict of interest.
In an effort to pre-empt and discredit The Daily Caller’s reporting, however, ABC also leaked to sympathetic news outlets and liberal bloggers that TheDC was working on Wednesday’s story. Those leaks came prior to that report’s publication, in a statement that included the assertion that “nearly the entire law review” was in attendance at the Raddatz-Genachowski nuptials.
TheDC pressed ABC’s Ford again Wednesday for specific numbers to justify that statement, but he did not respond.
Some members of the media class, perplexed by the relevance of making information public about President Obama’s past relationships, instead parroted ABC’s line of attack that The Daily Caller’s reporting was “absurd.”
For example, Politico blogger Dylan Byers attempted Wednesday to discredit TheDC’s report, having a head start with ABC’s leak Tuesday night.
When asked Wednesday, after by TheDC’s report was published, whether he bothered to verify the information ABC had passed along to him, Byers answered, “No, I didn’t.”
Specifically, he could not and did not verify Ford’s claim that “nearly the entire [Harvard] law review” attended the Raddatz-Genachowski wedding.
Erik Wemple, The Washington Post’s media critic, wrote that he at least waited for TheDC’s piece to be published before launching into his own attack.
Carol Platt Liebau, a former Harvard Law Review colleague of Obama and Genachowski’s, told TheDC that ABC’s notion that “nearly the entire law review” attended the wedding did not make sense given the ideological infighting of the publication during those days.
Obama and Genachowski were staunch liberals, she recalled, and leftist colleague Christine Lee pressured the future president to stack the publication with minority members.
Ultimately, Lee, cited in a 1990 story about Obama’s tenure at the law review, expressed her disappointment in him for becoming too much like those “in the Establishment.” That story also explored the political tensions that consumed the publication.
“The Harvard Law Review was a hot bed of ideological infighting,” said Platt Liebau, “so this is not like it was a second grade birthday party where everybody’s friends were invited.”
She emphasized the closeness of the friendship between Obama and Genachowski, saying they kept their relationship private, not often socializing with other Harvard Law Review members.
Genachowski and Raddatz’s relationship was also kept low-key, she said, although she was aware they were a couple because she worked in close proximity to Genachowski on the publication.
“You never saw her at the Review,” she said, speaking of Raddatz.
Reflecting on ABC spokesman David Ford’s statement that many law review staffers from 1991 went to successful careers in the George W. Bush administration, she said she could name only one — Bradford Berenson, who served the Bush administration as Associate White House Counsel.
Platt Liebau said she couldn’t imagine Berenson and Genachowski being friends, as they were nearly always at odds with one another, but added in an email after this article was published that “if Brad says he was at the wedding, he must have been.”
“Brad is the only Bush administration appointee that was likely to have been at the wedding,” she added in that email. “I was very close to all the others (as personal friends) and would have been likely to know had they been invited. Brad, unlike the others, was a year ahead of me.”
“He showed up in power and great glory to lead the occasional body meeting,” she said.
“In many ways, President Obama was an absentee leader of the review,” she said. “Supposedly, he was editing law review pieces from home.”
“The president was not unpleasant to me,” Platt Liebau told The Daily Caller, even saying in 2007 that Obama had reached out to advise her when she had become the Harvard Law Review’s first female managing editor.
“He was not out to make enemies,” she said. “He just clearly always had his eye on something bigger.”
In his book “Barack O’Liberal: The Education of President Obama,” author Alan R. Lockwood identified the size of the Harvard Law Review under Obama’s leadership.
“During the period that Obama was president of the HLR, there were 81 members of the HLR, including 44 third-year students and 37 second-year students,” Lockwood wrote
Lockwood also noted that Genachowski’s first two years and Obama’s first and final two years at Columbia University overlapped, but could not confirm whether the two men knew each other during those days.
He did say that all Columbia students — including students like Obama who transferred from other schools — were required to complete the same core curriculum during those days, regardless of their eventual major or when they entered.
“Since Obama began at Columbia as a junior in September 1981, the same time Genachowski began as a freshman, they both took the core curriculum during the same two academic years of 1981-83,” said Lockwood.
“The odds are decent that they took classes together even though Obama was a political science major and Genachowski was pre-med,” he said.
Neither the FCC or the Obama campaign returned The Daily Caller’s request for comment over Obama and Genachowski developed a friendship beginning at Columbia.
This article was updated after publication to include additional comments from Carol Platt Liebau.