Is Steve Scully pro-Biden? A look at the life and career of the moderator for second US presidential debate

Scully has often been branded as 'the most patient man on television' by TV host and comedian John Oliver


                            Is Steve Scully pro-Biden? A look at the life and career of the moderator for second US presidential debate
Steve Scully (Getty Images)
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America is waiting with bated breath to witness President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden square off in the remaining two US presidential election debates. Set to be moderated by journalist Steve Scully, the second debate was scheduled to take place at Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami on October 15, 2020.

However, a cloud of uncertainty now looms over the forthcoming event after Trump was tested positive for coronavirus on October 2, 2020. Although the Commission on Presidential Debates was willing to change it to a virtual-only format due to health concerns, the 74-year-old president has declined that option. “I’m not going to do a virtual debate,” Trump told Fox News just moments after the announcement was made.

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President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden (Getty Images)

His comments sparked a complicated set of back-and-forth statements between the Biden and Trump campaigns, where Biden's spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield rejected Trump's proposal to move the debate to October 22 and October 29 respectively. “Donald Trump doesn't make the debate schedule; the Debate Commission does. Trump's erratic behavior does not allow him to rewrite the calendar and pick new dates of his choosing. We look forward to participating in the final debate, scheduled for October 22, which already is tied for the latest debate date in 40 years. Donald Trump can show up, or he can decline again. That's his choice.”

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Amid the unpredictability of the event, meet Steve Scully — often been branded as “the most patient man on television” by TV host and comedian John Oliver! Here's a glimpse of his life and career along with his past ties with Biden.

Steve Scully (smpa.gwu.edu)

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Who is Steve Scully? 

Born on September 17, 1960, Scully was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania by Hubert L "Hoot" Scully and Elizabeth Jane North "Betty" Scully in a family of 16 children, including five sets of twins. “I grew up in a family with 12 brothers and sisters. So I have Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow in my family,” he said in a 2017 interview. “So at Thanksgiving and at Christmas, you can imagine what the dinner conversation is like. I kind of apply that when I listen to the callers. We’re a town hall forum and this is what America is thinking.”

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In his early years, he studied communication and political science at the American University in Washington, DC. A bright student, he was not only a part of the 1980-81 study abroad program at the University of Copenhagen but also served as a mailroom intern for Joe Biden (the US Senate from Delaware at that time) from September to October 1978. He also filled the bill as a staff assistant in Ted Kennedy's media affairs office in early 1979 for college credits. Thereafter, he graduated in 1984 after completing a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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In a 2011 interview with The Cable Center, he narrated those two experiences. “I came to school in Washington, DC, went to American University and had a couple of internships,” he said. “I worked for Joe Biden, senator from Delaware at the time, as an intern, so I had my first chance to really see politics up close in Washington, DC.” He added, “I worked for Senator Kennedy. I was involved in his ill-fated campaign in 1980, which was interesting; having worked as a high school student in the Carter campaign in 1976, I saw from two different perspectives. I always knew I wanted to come back to Washington.”

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Steve Scully (Ktr101/Wikimedia Commons)

A career in journalism

With two roads to choose from, Scully tread of the journalism path instead of entering the political arena. First hired as a weekend newscaster on WAMU, the American University-based radio station in 1980, he learned the ropes and then worked as a reporter and anchor for Erie's WSEE-TV in 1982. After his graduation in 1984, he joined WHBF-TV (CBS Affiliates) in Rock Island, Illinois, and covered a plethora of genres, including business, politics and local government.

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Between the years 1988 and 1990, he also taught several courses on the media and politics at St John Fisher College and Nazareth College in Rochester, NY. In 1990, he joined C-SPAN as a political editor and White House producer. According to a biography published by George Washington University, he coordinates all campaign programming for C-SPAN, C-SPAN.org and C-SPAN Radio and manages a team of field producers responsible for the editorial coverage of The White House, politics and special projects.

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A host and moderator, he has been a part of several C-SPAN programs like 'Newsmakers', 'Road to the White House' and 'In-Depth on Book TV'. In 2016, The Commission on Presidential Debates named Steve the back-up moderator for the three presidential and one vice presidential debate. 

US President George W. Bush (2nd R) smiles after cutting a ceremonial ribbon to open the remodeled Brady Press Briefing Room while (L-R) Press Secretary Tony Snow, first lady Laura Bush and White House Correspondents Association President Steve Scully of C-SPAN (Getty Images)

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Controversial links to Joe Biden and White House

Elected by his peers from the White House press corps, he served as the former president of the White House Correspondents’ Association from 2006 to 2007 and was on the Executive Board of the White House Correspondents' Association for nine years. Scully has interviewed every POTUS who took office since the 38th president Gerald Ford. His mother Elizabeth often accompanied him to the WHCA dinners with the likes of Bill Clinton, George W Bush, and Barack Obama.

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His six-week mailroom internship grabbed many eyeballs as a string of tweets erupted on social media wondering if he would be biased during the debate. “Gotta love the @VP at the Biden Beach Bash '16,” Scully had posted back in 2016 along with a photo of him and Biden. Not just that, the fact that he retweeted an opinion piece titled 'No, Not Trump, Not Ever' written by David Brooks for the New York Times also drew much scrutiny. 

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The Trump campaign was quick to raise fingers at Scully's links with Biden saying, “This is the guy @debates wants in control of @realDonaldTrump's mic at the next debate.” However, they didn't mention how Scully also interviewed Trump earlier and thanked him for the opportunity. “Thanks for the @C-SPAN shout out ⁦@realDonaldTrump⁩ ⁦@GOPconvention⁩ We ARE the one place for unfiltered coverage. Live. Uninterrupted. Gavel to Gavel. All week #RNC2020,” he wrote.

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Will he be unbiased?

After the moderators for the debate were announced, Scully committed in an interview to being fair “across the board,” as per Fox News. He said, “The town hall meeting is unique because it's really more of a facilitator role, but to listen carefully, to follow up, to make sure that the president, that Joe Biden ... follow the rules, that they don't filibuster,” he said. “And my hope really is that we're going to ask very direct questions, and we're going to push for very direct answers, and to make sure it's fair across the board.”

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On October 8, 2020, he was incessantly trolled for accidentally tweeting out a private message for former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci: “@Scaramucci should I respond to Trump.” Scaramucci then defended Scully, “Ignore. He is having a hard enough time. Some more bad stuff about to go down.”


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The damage, however, had been done. Several eyebrows were raised and people on Twitter couldn't help but wonder what's cooking and whether Scully will be unbiased in the forthcoming debate. 

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In the past, Scully has spoken of C-SPAN as an unfiltered, unbiased outlet. “People have compared C-SPAN to the Switzerland of the media, which I think is an interesting perspective ... I think — knock on wood — C-SPAN has a sterling reputation because we treat everyone fairly and present it in a way that doesn't show an agenda. Our camera angles, our directing, our producing — all straight above-board for everyone and every organization and every entity.”

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