Three Journalists Who Take No Prisoners (and No Crap)

By Laura Barcella

Today’s crop of seasoned female TV journalists are braver and ballsier than ever before. Take Martha Raddatz, whose moderation style at the vice presidential debate earlier this month has won her many accolades. Or Soledad O’Brien, whose unapologetically hard-hitting interview style turns powerful politicos into cowering bunnies weeping in the corner. Then there’s Candy Crowley, who just last week shattered a glass ceiling by becoming the first woman to moderate a presidential debate in a whopping 20 years. In a volatile world and an increasingly celebrified news climate, these women have managed to not only hold tight to their passion for delivering the news, but also hold onto their dedication to uncovering the truth.

Candy Crowley

Cheat Sheet: Though she’s currently in the headlines for moderating the October 16 presidential debate between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Candy Crowley has had a long, respected career as a journalist. In 1987 the St. Louis native moved from NBC to CNN, where she now is a political correspondent and host of the cable network's Sunday morning talk show State of the Union. One of her biggest coups was nabbing an exclusive interview with President George W. Bush just days before he left office.

Why We Love Her: Because Crowley was the first woman to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson in 1992, she had an intense amount of pressure on her to ace the debate -- sort of like trying to pull off the world’s biggest job interview in front of a leering, judgey audience of millions. Crowley’s overall debate performance drew mixed reviews -- she got some negative blowback for what Republicans saw as bias -- but overall she did a damn fine job. She held her own, ran the show, interjected thoughtfully, and knew her stuff.

Why She’s Unique: Crowley reportedly practices Transcendental Meditation for 20 minutes each morning and night and is a devout vegetarian. Also, Crowley’s personal political leanings have remained largely a mystery, despite GOP accusations after the debate she moderated. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times noted that “most viewers have given up trying to discern Crowley's politics... A recent assessment on President Obama's record, one year after his election, eschewed both celebration and condemnation, citing some successes and many challenges.” We respect that she’s been a consistent enigma, never fully showing her hand.

Soledad O’Brien

Cheat Sheet: As of January 2012, Soledad O’Brien has been the host of CNN’s morning news show “Starting Point.” Before that she co-anchored “American Morning” with Miles O'Brien. And she hosted the acclaimed documentary series Black in America and Latino in America.  A tough, gutsy interviewer, O’Brien also has a clear and demonstrated passion for social justice; in April 2008 she won an award created in her name by the Morehouse School of Medicine "to recognize outstanding catalysts for social change.” She’s won an Emmy for co-hosting the Discovery Channel’s “The Know Zone,” and in 2007 was honored with the NAACP President's Award.

O’Brien is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists (which in 2010 named her the Journalist of the Year) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She’s also a member of the Board of Directors of the After-School Corporation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding educational opportunities for all students.

Why We Love Her: O’Brien has an oft-noted knack for letting flustered interview subjects talk themselves into a sad little corner. In a recent Q&A on the blog Jezebel, O’Brien explained how she pulls that off: “[I] love interviewing people, and the best way to get a good answer is to be surrounded by facts and quotes and details and then just push them. Being emotional doesn't really help.”

Did we mention she’s brave, passionate, and never afraid to lay the smack down? We couldn’t help but fall a little in love when, the day after the first presidential debate earlier this month, O’Brien invited RedState.com’s Erick Erickson to discuss how Martha Raddatz had done as moderator. After Erickson insisted Raddatz did a “horrible job,” O’Brien didn’t mince words when expressing her disapproval: “I think you have lost your mind,” she said. (We approve.)

Another reason we adore O’Brien? She once served as a judge on “Iron Chef!"

Why She’s Unique: 

As well as covering big stories such as the tsunami and Katrina, O’Brien tries to help just a few people touched by misfortune.  Along with her husband, she created the Soledad O'Brien and Brad Raymond Foundation. Its goal: to assist young women whose lives were affected by disaster, generational poverty who were just down on their luck. The fix is direct:  pay their tuition.  O’Brien hopes launching “one successful young woman into a brighter future will help her go off into the world and help others”.  So far nine young women have been given this big leg up. With more to come

She also (refreshingly) admits that, because of her hard-hitting interviews, she’s not exactly winning any Beltway popularity contents: “No one invites me to any events -- not the White House, or any person or organization that i might challenge. That's a big upside of having four kids -- I'm way too busy to care.”

Martha Raddatz

Cheat Sheet: Martha Raddatz is Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent at ABC News, where she’s worked for more than 10 years. Before that she covered the Pentagon for NPR. Most recently, though, you probably remember her as the moderator at October 3’s heated vice-presidential debate, which notably produced the phrase “malarkey” and hundreds of smug grins, smirks, and chuckles from Vice President Biden. Amid two outsized egos clashing, Raddatz kept her cool, kept the drama in check, and kept the candidates in their places. She refused to let either politician get away with evading a question; she held them firmly accountable and pushed for directness as well as honesty. In return for her ballsy moderating, Raddatz got loads of well-deserved accolades from mediaites like Jon Stewart, Diane Sawyer, Wolf Blitzer, and, yes, Soledad O’Brien. For his part, Stewart exclaimed, "Watching her moderate that debate with, oh my God, editorial authority! Especially after the previous debate where Jim Lehrer felt his job was simply to establish there were two people on stage." 

Why We Love Her: Um, isn’t it obvious? Her debate performance was a thing of beauty. Raddatz’s refusal to shy away from the toughest questions (e.g., abortion and contraception), her candor, and her confidence in steering the discussion stood out when compared to the previous week’s moderator, Jim Lehrer. A CNN post-debate analysis blazed, “Who won Thursday's debate? Martha Raddatz.” Veteran PBS anchor Charlie Rose concurred, tweeting “everyone seems to agree that @martharaddatz is the star of this debate.”

Why She’s Unique: Raddatz isn’t an anchor, and she’s more than just a journalist with a penchant for foreign policy. Sure, she’s been to Iraq more than 20 times, and she wears her years of field experience quietly but proudly. Beyond that, Raddatz is a tried-and-true veteran reporter with visible expertise at asking the hard questions -- and pushing until she gets a legit answer -- from some of the world’s most powerful and challenging people. Never easily swayed, Raddatz certainly seems almost impossible to intimidate. We like that, especially in our current news culture, which seems to grow more and more fluffy and sycophantic by the day.

Laura Barcella is a writer and editor who has covered feminism and pop culture  for Salon, The Chicago Sun-Times, CNN.com, the Village Voice, Time Out New York, AlterNet, BUST, ELLE Girl,and NYLON.  She’s the editor of the anthology Madonna & Me,and the author of the new book The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About...Before It’s Too Late.