smiley.jpgFor the first time in American political history, four journalists of color — three black and one Hispanic — will direct questions to Democratic presidential candidates during a prime time televised debate at Howard University on Thursday. The debate in Washington, D.C., dubbed the All-American Presidential Forums, will be moderated by radio and television talk show host Tavis Smiley and will air live on PBS television. The panel will feature two black journalists and one Hispanic journalist.

“Never before, since the Lincoln-Douglas debates in 1858, has a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color and a black moderator queried a group of presidential candidates in prime time,” Smiley told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “This has never happened before.” “Who knew that in 2007 there would be more diversity on stage among the candidates? So, we also need as much diversity among the journalists who will question the candidates,” Smiley said.

Smiley maintained that there are many issues that have not been discussed among the candidates nd topics that have not been explored from a black perspective. “Health care, education and the economy have been discussed to some extent, but these issues have not been discussed with us in mind,” Smiley said. “The candidates have not discussed these issues in-depth, but the questions have not been asked.”

Smiley will be joined by Michel Martin of National Public Radio, Gannett News Service columnist DeWayne Wickham, who writes a weekly column that also appears in USA Today, and nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. Questions for the candidates will focus on issues that impact black Americans and will include crime, jobs and unemployment, health care, education and Katrina relief, as outlined in Smiley’s best-selling book, “The Covenant with Black America.”

Smiley said that so far during the campaign, candidates have talked about AIDS, but not how HIV/AIDS is the leading killer of black women. He said Cubans are being allowed into the United States, but federal authorities sending Haitians back home “should be part of the immigration conversation.”And Smiley added that when candidates discuss education, they don’t talk about the numerous problems with inner city schools. He also said there is not enough discussion of Katrina relief and poverty in America. “We plan to address these issues Thursday night,” Smiley said.

All of the Democratic presidential candidates have agreed to participate in the debate, including the frontrunners, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). This month, according to USA Today, Clinton regained a double-digit lead over Obama in the USA Today/Gallup Poll. And according to CNN, Clinton lengthened her lead among likely New Hampshire primary voters, winning points for being strong, even if she’s not necessarily the most likeable.

The CNN/WMUR presidential primary poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, placed Clinton at the front of the pack, supported by 36 percent of likely voters, versus 22 percent for Obama, her closest rival. Meanwhile, for the black journalists on the panel Thursday, the event marks a milestone in American politics.
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